Conflict in Ukraine prevents medical aid from reaching those in need

The World Health Organization says escalating fighting in Ukraine is preventing emergency medical supplies and health personnel from reaching many people in need of help.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly two months ago, the World Health Organization has delivered some 218 tonnes of emergency medical supplies. About two-thirds have reached their intended destinations, mainly in the east and north of the country where the needs are greatest.

The WHO released 15 generators from its Lviv warehouse on Tuesday and plans to deliver them this week to hospitals across the country. Speaking from Lviv, WHO spokesman Bhanu Bhatnagar said three people will be sent to Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. This is where heavy fighting is taking place and the power supply is badly affected.

Other generators, he says, are for places like Kharkiv, which has been devastated by Russian bombing, and the besieged city of Mariupol.

“We will only move the generators to their final destinations when we can ensure the safety of our personnel and the valuable cargo they are carrying. These generators will help meet the minimum energy needs of medical and surgical units in referral hospitals, where the power supply is either limited or non-existent,” he said.

Bhatnagar says access to a reliable power supply is essential, noting that even a momentary power outage can have serious consequences for patients. He says providing care in this dangerous environment is becoming increasingly difficult.

To date, he says, the WHO has verified 147 attacks on health facilities, ambulances and medical personnel. He adds that at least 73 people were killed and 52 injured. Such attacks, he says, hamper efforts to reach people in need.

“An increase in fighting in some parts of the country could really threaten our supply chains inside and outside some of the affected areas. To mitigate this risk, we are increasing our donations to the Ministry of Health. We are assessing also the ability to pre-position supplies in additional locations to sort of build a network of warehouses to reach affected areas,” Bhatnagar said.

Mariupol has been subjected to heavy bombardment by Russian forces since the start of the war. The city has been demolished, thousands of people are believed to have been killed and thousands more remain trapped.

Bhatnagar says the WHO fears the worst for Mariupol’s health system. He says no one has access to the city. But he adds that the WHO is positioning generators and other supplies nearby. This, so that he can bring in life-saving medicine and equipment as soon as it becomes possible.