Ukraine records over 100 attacks on healthcare: WHO

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Ukraine has recorded more than 100 attacks on healthcare, since the start of the war on February 24, the World Health Organisation has said.

The attacks so far have claimed 73 lives and injured 51, the agency said.

Of the current total of 103 attacks, 89 have impacted health facilities and 13 have impacted transport, including ambulances.

“We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing. Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law. Peace is the only way forward. I again call on the Russian Federation to stop the war,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said at a press conference.

This milestone of over 100 attacks on health spans barely 42 days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.

“The impact of this violence is not only immediate, in the numbers of deaths and injuries – but also long-term in the consequences for Ukraine’s health care system,” the health agency said.

It added that this is a major blow to the country’s efforts to institute health reforms and achieve universal health coverage, a goal it had made significant progress on before the war erupted.

Ukraine is also grappling with an outbreak of vaccine-derived polio with two cases in the country’s west last year, and the most recent in December. Poliovirus was also isolated from 19 healthy contacts, Nature reported.

As the invasion is displacing people and disrupting health services, infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and Covid-19 are also likely to spread in Ukraine.

The country’s ongoing conflict with Russia has also paused a three-week campaign to vaccinate nearly 140,000 children, launched on February 1; it has also hit polio surveillance, so the virus might be spreading undetected, warns the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, based in Geneva.

“Across Ukraine, 1000 health facilities are in proximity to conflict areas or in changed areas of control,” explained Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine.

“Health workers throughout the country are risking their lives to serve those in need of medical services, and they, and their patients, must never be targeted. The mental health toll wreaked by the war cannot be underestimated, affecting civilians and the health workforce alike,” Habicht said.

Attacks on health are unfortunately seen amid conflicts globally. Since January 1, 2022, WHO has verified 160 attacks on health care in 11 countries and territories resulting in 97 deaths and 74 injuries. Outside of Ukraine at this time, Sudan is also witnessing a recent increase in attacks on health care.

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