COVID-19 remains a threat during the war in Ukraine
COVID-19 remains a threat during the war in Ukraine

COVID-19 remains a threat during the war in Ukraine

Key takeaways

  • The vaccination rate for COVID-19 was lower in Ukraine than in many other countries before the war began, putting many people at risk of becoming infected and transmitting the virus.
  • Due to Russian attacks, important infrastructure, such as hospitals, has been damaged or destroyed.
  • Lack of medical care and supplies will pose public health challenges beyond the spread of COVID-19.

The biggest threat to Ukraine at the moment is, of course, the advancing Russian army. But other threats in this war include famine, damaged health infrastructure and COVID-19 outbreaks.

In Ukraine, the COVID-19 vaccination rate is low; only about 34% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Now hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians – some possibly ill with COVID-19 – have been forced to flee to other countries.

“We were just looking at getting the vaccination programs started [in Ukraine] amid a lot of misinformation and misinformation campaigns about efficiency and safety, ” Timothy Erickson, MD, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who is currently coordinating with the World Health Organization (WHO) on Ukraine, told Verywell. “Then comes unprovoked war.”

Public health concerns extend beyond COVID-19

Getting behind with vaccination is not just a COVID-19 problem. Even after the war, all kinds of vaccinations are likely to falter.

“In times of conflict, even vaccination programs that were intact see a profound effect,” Erickson said. “It can take 10 to 15 years to get back to where they were.”

This means that future burdens are inevitable for an already taxed healthcare system.

“The Ukrainian health system is undergoing an unimaginable stress test dealing with three simultaneous crises,” a WHO spokesman told Verywell. “Firstly, COVID-19 already stretched the health care system to its limits, and the pandemic had created a massive backlog of health needs as many people postponed their health care. Secondly, Ukraine has responded to an outbreak of polio. And now the latest humanitarian emergency strikes further a health system down that was already underway.

In March 11th situation report on Ukraine, the WHO outlined its major concerns for public health in Ukraine right now, including the spread of infectious diseases ranging from COVID-19 to tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases due to “widespread destruction of water and sanitation infrastructure, inadequate vaccination coverage, lack of access to medicines and medical care” , population movements and overcrowding. ”

WHO warns of several other health-related consequences of lack of medical care in wartime, such as:

  • Conflict-related trauma and injuries
  • Excessive illness and death from non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes
  • Deterioration of mental health and psychosocial health
  • Maternal health risks
  • Escalated risk of gender-based violence
  • Risk of human trafficking

The COVID-19 transfer is likely to increase

COVID-19 mitigation measures such as masking and social distancing are extraordinarily difficult now, both for those who have stayed in Ukraine and for refugees who have traveled.

“People are stuck in makeshift bomb shelters close by, some masked, some not, and some are part of a mass migration to [neighboring] countries, “Erickson said.” This could be a breeding ground for one [COVID] variant, so it’s a concern. Maybe not [as much of a] concern as the traumatic damage that Ukrainians tragically face, but COVID-19 will not go away and it can actually get worse with this current situation. ”

What about COVID-19 treatment?

For those in Ukraine who are getting sick, there are two major blockages of COVID-19 treatment right now: destruction of health facilities and supply problems.

At the beginning of the war, 1,700 Ukrainians were hospitalized because of COVID-19, according to WHO. Oxygen is essential for their treatment, but is “dangerously” low in supply, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The Agency has worked on safe transport corridors from Poland to Ukraine from Poland to provide medical supplies, including oxygen. But just because it’s in the country does not mean it’s available.

“It presupposes that people will even leave the place where they are sheltered to seek care for COVID-19 and other health emergencies,” Eric Toner, MD, senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Verywell.

The WHO spokesman said the agency “works with governments and partners in countries around Ukraine to assess the health needs – including COVID prevention and treatment – for incoming refugees upon entry.”

Several WHO staff have been deployed to Moldova, Romania and Poland.

“The information we have is that all refugees entering Poland, Moldova and other EU countries will have full access to basic health services, including COVID-19 services,” the spokesman said. “This includes access to free COVID-19 vaccination. At present, we have not had any indication from any country hosting refugees that they lack COVID-19 vaccine.”

The information in this article is current from the date stated, which means that more recent information may be available as you read this. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news site.

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