Resilience under fire: Saving lives in a war-torn Ukraine amid dwindling resources – Ukraine
Kyiv/Lviv, March 25, 2022 – “Do you know where I can get L-thyroxine? This is one of the most frequently asked questions by residents of Kyiv, Ukraine’s war-torn capital, of their friends and neighbours. A similar situation can be observed in other cities.
On Facebook, posts from people seeking thyroid medication are common, including in areas not yet affected by the war. During the first week of the Russian military invasion, people spent up to five hours queuing near a handful of pharmacies still in operation in kyiv. No one left the queue for shelter even when the air raid sirens went off. The third week, it took about an hour to get into a pharmacy. Now there are almost no queues, mainly because supplies have run out, and it is unclear when new batches of drugs will arrive. Shops that may still have much-needed medicines have remained closed since Feb. 24 as hopes fade that they will open soon.
Due to the lack of public transport, movement restrictions and active hostilities, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns of increasingly difficult access to medicines and care for non-communicable diseases, including but not limited to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic respiratory disease, epilepsy, and cancer.
The continuous bombardment of medical infrastructure places a huge burden on medical personnel in the most affected areas. During the first three weeks of the war, more than 40 installations were attacked, leaving 34 wounded and 12 dead.
A recent survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicates that there are 6.48 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine. About a third of displaced households had members with chronic illnesses and almost 20% included people with disabilities. Medicines and health services were identified as the second most pressing needs. Despite these challenges, since the outbreak of hostilities until mid-March, more than 4,300 children have been born in Ukraine and an additional 80,000 women are due to give birth in Ukraine over the next three months.
The western city of Lviv hosts more than 250,000 displaced people, with the capacity of medical institutions visibly stretched. The city has witnessed several missile attacks since the beginning of the war but still remains at the heart of humanitarian efforts to help those fleeing the war to neighboring countries or those who have decided to stay in this region.
In Lviv, IOM’s partner clinic, Andrii Sheptytsky Hospital, volunteered to provide urgent and planned medical care to all, including newly displaced people. Hospital staff have established a regular presence at Lviv train station, a major hub that receives displaced people. Several psychologists provide consultations directly in shelters for displaced people, helping them to overcome acute distress after fleeing war zones. Since the start of the war, the hospital has expanded the capacity of its palliative care unit, welcoming those in need of permanent care.
“Due to specific drug shortages in eastern Ukraine, many patients with non-communicable diseases are fleeing to the west, where they can receive treatment and care. It is important for us to anticipate the scale of new displacements and to increase our capacities,” explains Andrii Login, head of the hospital’s charity fund. “Many health workers are still here, they have not moved to the EU, so we must do everything we can to keep these staff and improve medical infrastructure at regional and local level. Otherwise, the system will be overloaded.
The hospital’s medical director, Roksolana Velgush, warns that the mass displacements may lead to a new wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as people stay in overcrowded shelters with poor ventilation. Several outbreaks of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, have already been reported in shelters for displaced people in Lviv, while 35,396 new cases of COVID-19 and 556 new deaths were recorded in the country between 10 and March 16. As designated COVID-19 units are being redirected to treating the injured and those in critical condition, capacity is sparse to isolate COVID-19 patients. As a positive signal, Roksolana reports that vaccination against COVID-19 is continuing, albeit at a much slower pace.
The health impacts of war are central to IOM’s work. IOM has been present in Ukraine for over 25 years, advocating inclusive migrant health practices and policies, facilitating migrant health assessments with partner clinics, renovating conflict-affected medical institutions in the east of Ukraine which broke out in 2014 and providing medical and medical care to them. personal protective equipment to help counter the spread of COVID-19.
In response to the current crisis, IOM aims to deploy mobile health teams made up of doctors and nurses to support access to life-saving primary healthcare. The Organization will also support local primary health care centers by purchasing personal protective equipment to reduce the spread of communicable diseases, including COVID-19.
By Varvara Zhluktenko and Iryna Tymchyshyn, IOM Ukraine