WHO strengthens health operations in eastern Ukraine

Following a joint United Nations mission to the area of eastern Ukraine not controlled by the Government on 27–31 January 2015, WHO set up a field office in the city of Donetsk. The deteriorating situation poses an increasing risk to people’s health. Health facilities have been damaged and medical supplies will soon be depleted. The office will monitor the population’s health status.

“We have successfully established the WHO office within the United Nations common project office in Donetsk. Our international field coordinator will work with health-cluster partners, and oversee activities to assess the availability of health services and to monitor the health status and needs of different population groups, especially the most vulnerable groups, such as elderly people with chronic diseases, people with disabilities, orphans, and tuberculosis and HIV/AIDs patients. Another task will be to analyse the gaps and to prioritize emergency-related activities for implementation,” says Dr Dorit Nitzan, WHO Representative in Ukraine.

Deteriorating health conditions in Ukraine

Increased shelling hampers health workers and humanitarian agencies’ access to the area. The number of deaths and casualties are increasing, as is the number of internally displaced people (IDPs).

WHO staff on the mission in January saw that the safety of hospitals, medical staff and patients is seriously compromised. Many health facilities have been damaged, abandoned or relocated. The referral system is disrupted, and hospitals are under increased pressure. The interruption of financial support to hospitals has jeopardized the payment of medical staff’s salaries.

Further, the availability of drugs and medical supplies has been dramatically reduced as a result of the collapse of the supply chain and depletion of stocks. Drug stocks are expected to run out within 2 weeks. Medications for chronic diseases (such as tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDs, cancer and diabetes) are urgently needed. In general, patients have reduced access to medication, as prices are increasing, and vulnerable population groups are at the greatest risk.

“In addition to delivering health supplies, a top priority should be to rapidly upgrade services in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and work with partners to ensure access and referral to the tertiary health care system,” says Ms Patricia Kormoss, Emergency Health Coordinator for WHO, who took part in the mission.
WHO’s field presence in Donetsk will contribute to its continuing work to coordinate humanitarian organizations’ activities on health issues in response to the crisis in Ukraine.