This winter will be deadly for millions of people in Ukraine.
A devastating energy crisis, a deepening mental health emergency, constraints on humanitarian access and the threat of viral infections will make this winter a difficult test for the Ukrainian health system and the Ukrainian people, but also for the world and their commitment to support Ukraine.
The country is facing a thermo-crisis on top of the perma-crisis brought on by the war and the pandemic.
Half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is either damaged or destroyed. It is already taking a toll on the health system and the health of the people.
Simply put, this winter will be all about survival.
The WHO has so far confirmed 703 health attacks since the war began nine months ago. This is a violation of international humanitarian law and the laws of war.
Continued attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean that hundreds of hospitals and health care facilities are no longer fully operational – lacking fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs.
Maternity wards need incubators; Blood banks need refrigerators; Intensive care beds require ventilators; And everyone needs energy.
I am on my fourth trip this year to focus the world’s attention on this situation and just days after the biggest wave of missile attacks across the country – to meet officials, health workers and patients and offer WHO’s unwavering support I have come here for Health, the government and the Ukrainian people.
And to express our gratitude and respect to the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers of Ukraine who continue to show their heroism.
We know that millions of premises across the country, including private homes, schools and hospitals, do not have a supply of gas, which is essential not only for cooking but also for heating.
Today, 10 million people – a quarter of the population – are without electricity.
Temperatures have been predicted to drop as low as -20°C in some parts of the country.
As desperate families try to stay warm, many will be forced to turn to alternative heating methods, such as burning charcoal or wood, or using generators fueled by diesel, or electric heaters. These bring health risks, including exposure to toxic substances that are harmful to children, the elderly, and those with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, as well as accidental burns and injuries.
We expect 2-3 million more people to leave their homes in search of warmth and safety. They will face unique health challenges, including increased risk of respiratory infections such as COVID-19, pneumonia and influenza, and diphtheria and measles in under-vaccinated populations.
All this is taking a toll on the mental health of Ukrainians. This week, the war is entering its 9th month, and already nearly 10 million people are at risk of mental disorders such as acute stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
By training health care workers on how to provide mental health services, WHO has so far reached 1,400 people with serious mental health conditions across Ukraine.
Tens of thousands of psychosocial support and mental health consultations have been organized for health care workers and the general public, including mobile mental health teams that go into the community to offer care. This would not have been possible without the tireless support of the First Lady, Her Excellency Ms. Olena Zelenska, whom I thank for allowing us to meet today.
I have also met with the Prime Minister, His Excellency Mr. Denis Shmyhal, and the Minister of Health, Mr. Viktor Lyashko, with whom I discussed energy supplies, winter preparations, and, perhaps most importantly, meeting critical health needs in both newly reclaimed regions. discussed doing. and occupied territories.
And that brings me to my next point – human access.
The war has affected both access to health care and supply lines for the flow of humanitarian aid. Ukraine needs sustained resources to see the health system through the winter and beyond, which will be high on the agenda at the Ukraine summit in Paris next month, led by President Macron and President Zelensky.
I am deeply concerned for the 17 000 HIV patients in Donetsk, who may soon run out of the vital antiretroviral drugs that help keep them alive. I am calling for the immediate creation of a humanitarian health corridor in all newly reclaimed and occupied territories. WHO and our partners stand ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice.
I reiterate my call on both sides to allow immediate humanitarian access to meet the health needs of the people.
Access to health care cannot be held hostage.
Lastly, we should not forget that people are more prone to viral respiratory infections in winter than in other seasons. As in the rest of Europe, several sub-variants of Omicron are circulating in Ukraine. However, with low basic vaccination rates, let alone boosters, millions of Ukrainians are getting little or no immunity to COVID-19. Couple that with an expected surge in seasonal influenza and difficulties accessing health services, and it could spell disaster for vulnerable people.
We are helping to prepare the health system of Ukraine for winter. This includes emergency repairs to health facilities and heating infrastructure, and energy maintenance.
We are also providing prefabricated structures, portable heating devices with fuel, survival blankets, diesel generators and ambulances to newly reclaimed areas.
Ukraine’s health system is facing its darkest days of the war. It has suffered more than 700 attacks, now it is also a victim of energy crisis. It is being squeezed from all sides and the ultimate victim is the patient.
In the short term, we need to find practical solutions that allow health care services to continue as best as possible during the winter. But this is not a sustainable scenario. This war must end before the health system and the health of the Ukrainian nation are further compromised.