WHO is expanding its health response in Ukraine to support the health needs of those affected in conflict areas and internally displaced by the ongoing fighting in the Donbas region (Donetsk and Luhansk) of eastern Ukraine. On World Humanitarian Day, WHO calls on the international community to pledge US$ 14 million to safeguard the health of an increasingly vulnerable population.
Current health situation in Ukraine
- Almost 4 million people have been affected by the crisis, with over 2 000 deaths and 5 000 people injured as of 18 August 2014.
- An estimated 400 000 people have been forced to leave their homes, many more than the 140 000 officially registered internally displaced persons (IDPs).
- Almost 200 000 people live in the combat areas, with no or limited access to safe water and electricity.
- 15 hospitals have been damaged and 20 health facilities have closed.
- Up to 70% of health-care workers in conflict areas have fled their places of work.
- The health system is unable to provide adequate health services to meet people’s needs. Historically low immunization coverage (including for polio), high incidence of HIV/AIDs and drug-resistant tuberculosis, and a high burden of chronic diseases compound the challenges.
Health sector response plan
The US$ 14 million Preliminary Response Plan for the health sector comprises 4 parts: a targeted humanitarian response based on needs in the affected areas; early recovery of health-care services in post-conflict areas; technical support to the Government; and monitoring and assessing the national health system.
Almost US$ 8 million of the total figure is earmarked for WHO’s scaled-up operations to cover:
- mobilizing health-care workers
- providing emergency health kits and logistics support for their distribution
- strengthening early warning systems for infectious diseases
- working with partners to establish mobile clinics and first aid centres
- supporting the provision of vaccines for internally displaced children.
Health conditions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) of particular concern
On 8 August, WHO was part of a field mission to 3 IDP camps in Mariupol, Donetsk and Zaporizha oblasts together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), supporting the State Emergency Services of Ukraine.
Conditions in the camps vary, but in general camps where IDP families are currently located lack drinking water and have poor sanitation.
Respiratory, gastrointestinal and skin infections have been reported and there is a risk of vaccine-preventable diseases, including polio, as most children are not immunized. Chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes are not treated, the food being distributed is of poor nutritional value, and many are suffering from mental disorders.
The start of the cold season is expected to worsen the living conditions for IDPs.
WHO’s ongoing response
WHO has been coordinating the response of the health sector, supporting the Ministry of Health of Ukraine since the early stages of civil unrest in the country in November 2013.
The support has included technical guidance on health issues including vaccine-preventable diseases and disease surveillance for IDPs; and establishing a data collection system of health needs and gaps through a network of health impact specialists.
Recent developments in the country – intensified fighting, a greater number of affected residents and IDPs, and movements of people across borders especially to the Russian Federation – require WHO and its partners to step up their support.