The World Health Organization said on Wednesday the ongoing invasion of Russian forces in Ukraine will allow COVID-19 to spread easily across the country, concerning health officials that the situation will result in many cases going undetected as attacks are made on healthcare facilities.
“You disrupt society like this and literally millions of people on the move, then infectious diseases will exploit that,” Mike Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, said during a media briefing.
“(People are) highly susceptible to the impacts of, first of all, being infected themselves, and it’s much more likely that disease will spread,” Ryan added.
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Ukraine is coming off one of its worst waves of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to WHO data. On Feb. 4, there were a record 43,778 positive cases reported, and although cases have continuously declined since then, the crisis could result in the virus easily spreading without tests available. Only 34% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, according to WHO data.
“Low rates of testing since the start of the conflict mean there is likely to be significant, undetected transmission. Coupled with low vaccination coverage, this increases the risk of large numbers of people developing severe diseases,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said .
He added the organization is “deeply concerned about the unfolding humanitarian emergency,” saying they have heard of several unconfirmed reports of attacks being made on hospitals and other health care facilities, including a confirmed attack of a hospital that resulted in four deaths and 10 injuries. .
The attacks are adding extra pressure on healthcare workers to care for both COVID-19 patients and those injured during the conflict.
“The sanctity and neutrality of healthcare, including of health workers, patient supplies, transport and facilities, and the right to safe access to care, must be respected and protected. Attacks on healthcare are in violation of international humanitarian law,” Ghebreyesus said.
The organization said healthcare supplies in some places like Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, are inaccessible, and they are sending $5.2 million worth of emergency supplies to Poland for Ukrainian refugees, and hopes efforts could be made to send to those in Ukraine.
In addition, Ghebreyesus said three major oxygen plants in Ukraine are closed, so the organization is trying to find ways it can be delivered to the country.
“You can’t wait till tomorrow for oxygen. You can’t wait till next week, you can’t be put on a waiting list for oxygen, you can stand in the queue for oxygen. Oxygen saves your life right now. And when you need it, you need it,” said Bruce Aylward, a WHO senior. “It’s a very clear example that if we do not get oxygen into the system and other critical drugs, people will die, needlessly.”
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism