The war in Ukraine is impacting health in dire ways; humanitarian and medical organizations on the ground are working to get refugees and those who stayed in the country the help they need
March 18, 2022 (ACP) -- As the situation in Ukraine deteriorates further and millions flee their war-torn homeland, the American College of Physicians is calling attention to the great harm that the attacks are having on the health of civilians and combatants and calling on the global community to help ensure refugees get the care they need, including necessary prescriptions, safe lodging, food and nutrition.
“ACP stands with our physician colleagues in Ukraine who are doing all they can to save lives under extremely dangerous and disruptive conditions,” ACP wrote in a statement. “All steps should be taken to end the conflict and mitigate the harm it is having on human health.”
Russia first invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, a move that escalated the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014. Since then, the media has been flooded with devastating images and footage of men, women, children and pets attempting to flee Ukraine amid air strikes.
The Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko announced that 61 hospitals throughout the country were shuttered since Russia launched its invasion, and this figure did not include the recent attack on a maternity and children's hospital in the coastal city of Mariupol.
As a result, access to medical supplies, oxygen and prescription medications has been interrupted, and supply chains have been broken down, leaving thousands of Ukrainians without food, water or power.
James Elder, a spokesperson for UNICEF, arrived in the western city of Lviv just two days after the Russian invasion began. “A million children who are refugees have had to flee the country -- in 13 days. Imagine the stress and the trauma. The world has not seen anything like this since World War II,” he told HealthDay. “But it's also really important to remember those who are at risk trapped in-country, as much as we see this huge outflux of people,” he added.
“It is a remarkably volatile situation,” said Dr. Janis P. Tupesis, associate director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Other extenuating circumstances are making an already bad situation much worse, added Dr. Russell Buhr, an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine and chair of the Crisis Standards of Care for Disaster and Pandemic Response Team at UCLA Health.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet, and both our ability to provide preventive care like the delivery of vaccines and care for infected individuals is impaired when there are not stable and secure medical facilities to go to,” Buhr said.
Many refugees are seeking shelter in unconventional places like train stations and are packed in close quarters, which could fuel the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. “Masking, hand hygiene, and social distancing are the last things on their mind given the circumstances,” Buhr said. It is also winter in Ukraine right now, with freezing temperatures expected, he added.
Many humanitarian and medical organizations on the ground are working to get Ukrainian refugees and those who stayed in the country the help they need, Tupesis said. “There is a real call for us as individuals and professional organizations to use our advocacy buttons to try to bring some of the things that are happening to light,” he said.
Refugees are entering neighboring countries like Poland and Romania, and help is needed in these areas too. “These people left town in a hurry, and many have sustained injuries and illness, lost medication and don't have access to usual care,” Buhr said.
Everyone can do something. “Donating money enables the people who are trained, speak Ukrainian and have experience in field medicine to provide care where it is needed most,” he said.