Stressing that health workers, hospitals, and medical facilities must never be targeted in conflicts, the head of the World Health Organization in Europe said Tuesday that 16 attacks on Ukrainian health facilities have been confirmed since Russia launched a war on the country,
“To date, we have 16 confirmed reports of attacks on health facilities in Ukraine, and more are being verified,” Hans Kluge told a news conference.
“WHO strongly condemns these attacks on health care services,” he added.
Kluge noted that the WHO’s health care provision priority is for civilians and refugees within and beyond Ukraine.
“It should not need saying that health workers, hospitals, and other medical facilities must never be a target at any time, including during crises and conflicts,” said Kluge.
“And today within the country, we see a health system under severe pressure and beyond its borders, the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe for more than 75 years in these difficult days,” he stressed.
At least 406 civilians have been killed and 801 others injured in Ukraine since Russia’s war on the country began on Feb. 24, according to UN figures. But the international body has maintained that conditions on the ground have made it “difficult to verify” the true number of civilian casualties.
The WHO regional chief said essential lifesaving medicines, such as oxygen and insulin, personal protective equipment, surgical supplies, anesthetics, and safe blood products, are in short supply.
To date, two shipments, a total of 76 tons, of trauma and emergency health supplies and freezers, refrigerators, ice packs, and cool boxes are in transit to Ukraine.
“We have further shipments of 500 oxygen concentrators, and more supplies are on their way,” noted Kluge.
He said one priority for WHO is to ensure that neighboring countries have the infrastructure and expertise to meet the urgent health needs of those arriving.
According to the UN refugee agency, some 2 million people, with the vast majority women and children, have so far fled Ukraine since Feb. 24.
“All those seeking refuge, including internationals who had been residing in Ukraine, must be granted movement across Europe,” said Kluge.
WHO has deployed expert teams to Hungary, Poland, Moldova, and Romania.
Kluge said he visited the border area of Rzeszow in Poland last Thursday.
“I saw more than exhaustion and relief. Looking into people’s eyes – there is uncertainty and anguish among children and women,” he said.
“Their health needs encompass services for vaccine-preventable diseases, maternal, newborn and child health, NCDs (non-communicable diseases), HIV and TB (tuberculosis), and not least, mental health and psychosocial support.”
Kluge said the welcome they have received from local people and health care staff has been “phenomenal.”