Ukraine, WHO alarm: “Winter at risk of life for millions of people”

Regional director for Europe Kluge: “War must end before the health system and population health are further compromised”

“This winter will be dangerous for the lives of millions of people in Ukraine. The devastating energy crisis, the worsening mental health emergency, constraints on humanitarian access and the risk of viral infections will make” the cold season “a tough test for the health care system and for the Ukrainian peoplebut also for the world and its commitment to support the country “grappling with the conflict with Russia. It is ‘War must end before the health system and population health are further compromised” and, regional director of the World Organization of health (WHO) for Europe, which adds: “People’s health cannot be held hostage”.

The country, he reiterates, today “is facing a thermal crisis, as well as a permanent crisis caused by the war and the pandemic. Half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is damaged or destroyed. This is already having knock-on effects on the health system and people’s health. Simply put, this winter is going to be about survival,” he warns. To focus the world’s attention on this situation Kluge made his “fourth visit this year” to Kiev, “just days after the largest wave of rocket attacks across the country, to meet with officials, health workers and patients, and offer the WHO’s unwavering support for the Ministry of Healthto the Government and the Ukrainian people”, as well as to thank “doctors, nurses and health workers who continue to show their heroism”.

“What we know – he continues – is that hundreds of thousands of premises, including private homes, schools and hospitals, throughout the country do not have gas supplies, which are essential not only for cooking but also for heating. Today 10 million people , a quarter of the population, are without electricity temperatures will drop to -20 degrees in some parts of the country. Cold can kill. Many desperate families will be forced to resort to alternative heating methods, burning coal or wood or using diesel-powered generators or electric heaters. These pose health risks, including exposure to toxic substances harmful to children, the elderly and people with respiratory and cardiovascular problems, as well as accidental burns and injuries. And we expect 2 to 3 million more people to leave their homes in search of warmth and safety“. Then there will be the risks associated with “respiratory infections such as Covid, pneumonia and influenza, and the serious risk of diphtheria and measles in unvaccinated groups”.

All this “is putting a strain on the mental health of Ukrainians – warns Kluge – This week the war enters its ninth month and already about 10 million people are at risk of mental disorders: acute stress, anxiety, depression, substance use and PTSD”. Tens of thousands of psychosocial and mental health consultations have been organized for health professionals and the general public, mobile mental health teams offer assistance in the community. “All this would not be possible without the tireless support of the First Lady, Olena Zelenska, whom I thank for our meeting today”, continues the WHO Europe director, who also held talks with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal , and Health Minister Viktor Liashko.

Access to health care cannot be held hostage“, he repeats, also speaking of the Covid risk. “As in the rest of Europe, Omicron subvariants are also circulating in Ukraine. However, with low vaccination rates on primary rounds and even lower on booster shots, millions of Ukrainians have declining or no immunity to Covid. Coupled with an expected increase in seasonal flu and difficulties accessing healthcare services, this could mean a disaster for vulnerable people“.

WHO, Kluge continues, is “helping the Ukrainian health system prepare for winter”, helping with repairs, and is “providing prefabricated structures in reconquered areas, portable heaters with fuel, survival blankets, diesel generators and ambulances Short-term we need to find practical solutions that allow health services to continue as well as possible during the winter. But this is not a sustainable scenario. This war must end before the healthcare system and the health of the Ukrainian nation is further compromised.”