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WHO/Europe | Statement – In solidarity with Ukrainian health workers on this World Health Day

Statement by Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe

April 7, 2022

Good afternoon,

I speak to you today from the city of L’viv in western Ukraine, where WHO coordinates its activities in the country.

Today is World Health Day, the day the World Health Organization was founded 74 years ago in the aftermath of World War II to uphold the principle that health is a human right and that all human beings should enjoy the highest standard of health.

As a doctor myself, I am here in Ukraine to stand in solidarity with the country’s healthcare workers. I thank them for their dedication and professionalism – as they continue to provide care in the face of unimaginable human suffering and in scenes of utter devastation – that no nurse, doctor, midwife, paramedic, pharmacist, therapist or social worker should never have to experience.

This visit gives me a unique opportunity to speak to frontline health workers, patients, local and national authorities, and to gather information on the immediate and longer term health needs in the country, and to find the best ways for WHO and its partners to deliver assistance.

On this World Health Day, I reaffirm WHO’s determination to ensure health for all, wherever they are in the 53 countries of the WHO European Region. We seek to ensure that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, is not deprived of the medicines, treatments and care they may need. I join our Director-General who, on behalf of WHO, has consistently called on the Russian Federation for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which includes unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for those in need.

In the current situation, WHO’s overarching goal is to ensure that people have sustainable access to essential health care and that we can respond to changing health needs due to war.

Our activities revolve around three priorities:

First, to keep the health services operational in Ukraine. Even before February 24, we were pre-positioning supplies, and since then we have been working closely with national and local authorities and more than 80 partners to maintain services across the country.

We have delivered over 185 tonnes of medical supplies to the hardest hit parts of the country, reaching half a million people with materials to support trauma, surgery and primary healthcare. Last week we were able to bring supplies to the beleaguered city of Sumy. Another 125 tonnes of essential items are also on the way. Assistive products – wheelchairs, other mobility aids and communication aids for the blind – are in transit and will soon be distributed across Ukraine.

An estimated 260,000 people are living with HIV in Ukraine. This week, together with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Ukrainian authorities and our partners, we ensured that the supply of antiretroviral drugs to meet the needs of every person known to be living with HIV in Ukraine will be reached for the next 12 months.

We have a fully functional office in L’viv and are setting up an operational base in Dnipro, in east-central Ukraine, to mobilize resources more quickly and reach some of the most vulnerable people in conflict zones with emergency supplies.

Given the uncertainties of the current situation, there is no guarantee that the war will not get worse. The WHO considers all scenarios and foresees contingencies for different situations that could afflict the people of Ukraine, from continued mass casualties to chemical attacks.

Our second priority is to work with Ukraine’s neighbours, with countries across the European Region and beyond, to ensure that the health needs of those fleeing war are met, that the treatment and care of refugees with special needs are maintained and that the health systems of the host countries can manage these massive influxes of people.

So far, more than 4.2 million people have fled Ukraine since February 24. I thank destination countries in the Region for their commitment to extending health services to those arriving, but recognize that providing this is difficult and strains already overstretched systems. We are working with national authorities to fill gaps and help deliver supplies where they are needed, for services such as routine childhood immunizations.

The WHO is also coordinating with the European Union to triage incoming patients, to ensure they are received in an EU country that is best placed to treat them.

We channel support from further afield. The Asia-Europe Foundation has provided $9.5 million from Japan to purchase much-needed equipment and provide services to manage COVID-19, as well as other communicable diseases, including measles and poliomyelitis, for Ukraine and its neighbours.

Thirdly, we are helping the Ministry of Health to rebuild a better Ukrainian health system. WHO has been on the ground in Ukraine since 1994, helping the country to strengthen its health system, in particular primary health care and health financing.

Since 2015, and until February 24 of this year, the Government of Ukraine was reforming the entire health system, moving towards universal health coverage.

The country has made excellent progress on specific challenges – turning a corner in its fight against tuberculosis [tuberculosis] and HIV. It was a beacon of best practice in Eastern Europe, with TB incidence nearly halving over the past 15 years, thanks to investment in modern diagnostic technologies to rapidly identify the tuberculosis infection and effective treatment regimens for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. [multidrug-resistant tuberculosis].

Despite the war, we are determined to support Ukraine and not to lose this momentum.

WHO is preparing to redeploy teams across the country as access and security improve. We are committed to working using a strong decentralized footprint, both during the current humanitarian response, but also being there with local and national authorities to rebuild the war-torn health system.

Health requires peace, well-being requires hope, and healing requires time.
I speak on behalf of the entire WHO family when I say my deepest wish for this war to end quickly, with no further loss of life. Tragically, this is not the reality we see.

To date, WHO has verified 91 health incidents; routine immunization coverage against poliomyelitis and measles is below the population immunity threshold; 50% of Ukrainian pharmacies are presumed to be closed; and 1,000 health facilities are near conflict zones or in modified control zones. Around 80,000 babies will be born in the next 3 months with insufficient antenatal and postnatal care due to the ongoing conflict.

In these dark days, let me assure you that WHO is committed to being in Ukraine for the short and longer term – to address immediate health challenges and future reconstruction needs. I would like once again to express my deep admiration for all frontline workers in Ukraine, protecting people’s health.

Our humanitarian mandate and principles require us to ensure health for all, including the poor and most vulnerable, wherever they are.

We have prepared for different eventualities, anticipating that health problems will get worse before they get better.

But as WHO’s long history and experience shows, they will eventually get better.

The life-saving remedy that Ukraine needs right now is peace.

Thank you.

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