Ukraine: Organisations appeal for end to targeting of health care facilities
By Francesca Merlo
"Today, we call for an immediate end to all attacks on healthcare in Ukraine". In a strong appeal released on Sunday, UNICEF, describes the "horrific attacks" in Ukraine, that "are killing and seriously injuring patients and health workers, destroying vital health infrastructure and forcing thousands of people to give up access to health services despite dire needs".
The statement, written jointly with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN's Population Fund (UNFPA) stresses that "attacking the most vulnerable - infants, children, pregnant women, those already suffering from illness and disease, and health workers who risk their lives to save lives - is an act of unconscionable cruelty".
In Ukraine, since the beginning of the war, 31 attacks on health care have been documented through the WHO's System for the Surveillance of Attacks on Health Care (SSA). According to these reports, in 24 incidents health care facilities were damaged or destroyed, and in five cases ambulances were damaged or destroyed. These attacks caused at least 12 deaths and 34 injuries, and affected access to and availability of essential health services. WHO is investigating further reports, as attacks continue to be reported despite calls for the protection of health care.
The impact of the attacks
The statement goes on to note the impact that attacks on health care and health workers has. It begins by noting the impact on people's ability to access essential services, paying particular attention to women, children and other vulnerable groups. "We have already seen that the health care needs of pregnant women, new mothers, young children and the elderly within Ukraine are increasing, while access to services is severely restricted by violence".
An example of this, continues the statement, is the 4,300 births in Ukraine since the beginning of the war, and the fact that 80,000 Ukrainian women are expected to give birth in the next three months. UNICEF and the WHO warn that "oxygen and medical supplies, including for the management of pregnancy complications, are running dangerously low".
"The health system in Ukraine is clearly under pressure, and its collapse would be a catastrophe. Every effort must be made to prevent this from happening. International humanitarian law and human rights must be respected, and the protection of civilians must be our top priority", notes the statement.
At the same time, the statement continues by stressing the need for humanitarian partners and health workers to be able to safely maintain and strengthen the provision of essential health services, including vaccination against COVID-19 and polio, and the provision of life-saving medicines for civilians throughout Ukraine and for refugees crossing into neighbouring countries. "Health services should be systematically available at border crossings, including rapid assistance and referral procedures for children and pregnant women", they add.
Bringing their appeal to an end, the three organisations stress that "health care and services must be protected from all acts of violence and obstacles", especially in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic "which has already strained health systems and health workers. "For the sake of health workers, and for all people in Ukraine who need access to the life-saving services they provide, attacks on all health care and other civilian infrastructure must stop".
Finally, they add, "we call for an immediate ceasefire, including unhindered access so that people in need can get humanitarian assistance. A peaceful resolution to end the war in Ukraine is possible".