UN, humanitarian partners launch health plan in crisis-torn eastern Ukraine

Local volunteers prepare humanitarian aid in the cellar of the Sloviansk public library, Ukraine, which serves as a warehouse and collection point for UNHCR's aid delivery. Photo: UNHCR/Iva Zimova

15 August 2014 – Conflict in eastern Ukraine, mainly in the areas in and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, has affected nearly four million people, including 156,000 internally displaced people, many of whom lack access to healthcare, a United Nations health official said today as he appealed for funds to help address the situation.

The $14 million dollar humanitarian response plan, developed by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners, aims to restore access to healthcare, provide medicine and equipment and strengthen community‐based mental health support services.

“We are tailoring our response activities to care for each of these communities, and to prepare in advance for the coming of winter, which will only exacerbate the health crisis people will face,” said Dorit Nitzan, WHO's representative in Ukraine in a statement.

Overall, up to 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in other areas of the country are without access to health services. The already fragile Ukrainian health system is completely overstretched in the areas with high IDP density and health service provision is insufficient.

Vulnerable groups, such as the Roma, children, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and disabled, are at high risk with the health system's limited capacities, according to the UN.

“Many people have no access to health services, and in some areas hospital and clinical services have collapsed, while those who managed to get out now have no access to water, health, food,” said Dr. Nitzan.

In the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, some 15 hospitals have been damaged in the fighting and so far 20 health facilities have closed. Up to 70 per cent of health care workers have fled while the crisis prevents patients from accessing much needed health care. It is estimated that 5,000 people in that region have been wounded.

Dr. Nitzan also warned that major health risks could arise from insufficient access to emergency and primary health care including water‐borne and communicable diseases and mental health disorders. He said that the ongoing uncertainty and violence as well as loss of family members, friends and livelihoods continue to take a heavy toll on the population's mental health.

Meanwhile, care for people with non‐communicable diseases, tuberculosis and HIV has become very limited. It is estimated that TB patients are getting only one of the four drugs needed.

WHO is responding to these challenges by procuring essential medicines, including emergency drugs, vaccines and equipment for the national health care system as well as expanding the scale of the early warning system for infectious disease outbreak prevention and control.


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