Regular press briefing by the United Nations Information Service, 08 July 2022 – War in Ukraine – Ukraine
War in Ukraine
Dr Dorit Nitzan, Ukraine crisis incident manager at the World Health Organization, speaking from Odessa, Ukraine, said the WHO’s mission in Mykolaiv and Odessa was to assess health needs , preparedness for all risks and to establish the WHO center in Odessa. She added that the WHO was working closely with the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, oblast health authorities and city authorities – to ensure its work was guided by needs at all levels – both from top to bottom and from bottom to top. The focus was on the health needs of affected populations, people whose physical and mental health had been damaged and/or deteriorated due to the Russian invasion and its aftermath. For example, this included people who had not been able to receive early cancer diagnosis and treatment, who now had much more advanced tumors and more serious illnesses, or people who had not been able to receive medication for hypertension and who now had a failing heart. or had suffered strokes. It also affected diabetics who could not seek treatment and whose disease was now severe, as well as premature babies, pregnant women, the elderly, many of whom had been left behind and were very vulnerable.
Dr Nitzan further said that other people had suffered the horrific effects of explosions and missile fire impacting their vision, with burns that damaged their eyes, leaving people permanently or partially blind. . Odessa had a nationally renowned ophthalmology center and the expertise and skills were sorely needed there. People were disabled in all sorts of ways. The deafening noise of the shelling could damage hearing. Landmines had been the cause of many amputated legs. And of course, fear, grief and uncertainty had a terrible impact on mental health.
Dr Nitzan stressed that WHO’s modus operandi is three-fold: preparedness, response and recovery, all done at the same time, in different parts of the country. In collaboration with the health authorities, the WHO is preparing for all risks. Health facilities in Odessa and Mykolaiv were really overwhelmed and the health system was now facing gaps already created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the field of health, more than 130 NGOs, national and international, participated within the health cluster. She called on everyone to move forward and work in full coordination on the ground. That said, Dr Nitzan said the combination of major emergencies, including war, the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing health system reform in Ukraine, had made the system more responsive and resilient. However, people had higher expectations of their health service. WHO’s role is to help the health system meet these expectations, to ensure that all life-saving health services are available, people-centred and of good quality. It was not just about providing supplies. WHO provided the standards, guidance and training, and identified what was most needed and ensured that it got to the right people. The WHO was keen to reach the populations affected by the conflict, using a diversified toolbox, such as, for example, the treatment of waterborne diseases, because the omnipresent risk of cholera had moved up its list of priorities and it was the one of the questions that preoccupied them in Mykolaiv.
In response to questions, Dr Nitzan clarified that there were landmines all over Ukraine and it was difficult to anticipate their impact or even estimate their number. What was visible were people undergoing amputations or medical evacuations to other institutions.
She also said that the new WHO center was in Odessa, but the headquarters remained in Kyiv. Ukraine was a large country with 18 million people affected and 5.9 million injured. Among them was suffering related to trauma and the effects of war. Non-communicable diseases should also be taken into account. There have been no new cases of polio, the 29 cases of acute flaccid paralysis have all been brought under control and none of them are due to polio. There are no cases of cholera and she hopes there won’t be, but the WHO is preparing for it. There had been a suspected case, but it wasn’t a toxic subtype. The number of non-communicable diseases is the main cause of the heavy health burden in Ukraine, and it is increasing. With regard to eye injuries, the WHO was collecting data. She asked that a humanitarian corridor be authorized. With regard to sexual violence, as in all wars, the director of the WHO has seen cases of sexual violence, and the number is increasing, especially in conflict areas. Gender-based violence affected not only women but also men and others. WHO is also working to strengthen the country’s health system.
Tomson Phiri, global spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), said that nearly five months after the start of the war in Ukraine, the country faces multiple challenges. Intense fighting continually displaced people, cutting off those who remained from trade supply routes and dampening the country’s economy. One in three households in Ukraine was food insecure, reaching one in two in some eastern and southern regions. WFP rapidly scaled up its assistance through food or cash distributions in Ukraine, reaching 2.6 million people in June and continued to work with partners to reach areas close to the front lines. In these areas, fighting prevented people, especially the elderly and families with children, from accessing food. The WFP was buying as much food as possible inside Ukraine, helping people with cash wherever there was access to banks and markets were functioning.
In Ukraine, WFP has transferred $140 million in cash and vouchers to nearly 1.9 million people since April. People received their money within 72 hours of signing up. Every dollar spent was directly injected into the local economy. In June, nearly 925,000 people received financial assistance worth US$66.5 million. Internally displaced people received $75 per person for a maximum of three people per family. Where possible, WFP has tried to purchase grain, food and services from Ukraine, as part of efforts to support the local economy. It remained difficult to ensure sufficient access to fuel, with adverse ripple effects for our work.
In Moldova, the second round of cash transfers was underway for around 15,000 Moldovan families hosting refugees from Ukraine, to help them reduce the burden of additional costs for food and other basic needs. WFP had delivered over half a million hot meals (three meals a day to an average of 1,966 people a day) to 90 refugee reception centers in 31 different localities/regions through cooperating partners . The third round of transfers was scheduled for July and in total, WFP planned to make up to four rounds of transfers, depending on the availability of funds.
Rhéal LeBlanc, head of press and external relations at the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), reminded correspondents that more than 1,400 UN personnel were working on the ground providing lifesaving assistance and reaching currently 10.3 million people across Ukraine.