Regular Press Briefing by the United Nations Information Service, 08 July 2022 – War in Ukraine

Dr Dorit Nitzan, Ukraine Crisis Incident Manager at the World Health Organization, speaking from Odessa, Ukraine, said that the WHO mission to Mykolaiv and Odessa was to assess health needs, readiness to all-hazards and establish WHO’s hub in Odessa. She added that the WHO was working in close alignment with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, the Oblast health authorities, and the city authorities – to make sure its work was driven by needs at all levels – both top-down and bottom-up. The focus was the health needs of affected populations, the people whose physical and mental health had been harmed, and/or had deteriorated due to the Russian invasion and its consequences. For instance, this included the people who had not been able to receive early diagnosis and treatment for cancer, who now had much more advanced tumors and more critical illnesses, or people who had not been able to receive medication for hypertension and now had failing hearts or had suffered strokes. It also affected diabetics who could not get treatment and whose disease was now severe, as well as premature babies, pregnant women, older people, many of whom had been left behind and were highly vulnerable.

Dr Nitzan further said that other people had suffered the terrible effects of explosions and missile strikes with impact on their vision, with burns that damaged their eyes, leaving people permanently or partially blind. Odessa had a countrywide-renowned Ophthalmology Centre and the expertise and skills there were sorely needed. People were being disabled in all kinds of ways. The thunderous noise of bombardment could damage hearing. Landmines had been the cause of many amputated legs. And of course, the fear, grief and uncertainty exerted an appalling toll on mental health.

Dr Nitzan highlighted that the WHO’s modus operandi was triple headed: readiness, response and recovery, all done at the same time, in different parts of the country. Together with the health authorities, WHO was getting ready for all hazards. The health institutions in Odessa and Mykolaiv were really overstretched, and the healthcare system was now faced with gaps that had already been created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the health sphere, more than 130 NGOs, national and international, had been taking part under the health cluster. She called for all to step forward and work in full coordination on the ground. Having said that, Dr Nitzan expressed that the combination of major emergencies, including the war, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing health system reform in Ukraine, had made the system more responsive and more resilient. However, people had higher expectations of their health service. WHO’s role was to help the health system to meet those expectations, to ensure the package of lifesaving health services was available, people-centered, and of good quality. It was not just about providing supplies. WHO was providing the standards, guidance and training, and identifying what was needed most and making sure it got to the right people. WHO was keen to get to the conflict affected populations, using a diversified toolbox, such as, for example, the treatment of waterborne diseases, as the ever-present risk of cholera had moved higher up its list of priorities and this was one of the issues they were concerned about in Mykolaiv.

In response to questions, Dr Nitzan specified that there were landmines everywhere in Ukraine and that it was hard to anticipate their impact or even assess their number. What was visible were people going through amputations or medical evacuations to other institutions.

She also said that the new WHO hub was in Odessa, but the head office remained in Kiev. Ukraine was a large country with 18 million affected people, and 5.9 million injured. Among them, there was suffering related to trauma and the effect of war. Non-communicable diseases were also to be accounted. There were no new polio cases, the 29 cases of acute flaccid paralysis had all been checked and none of them was due to polio. There was no case of cholera and she hoped there would not be any, yet WHO was getting ready for it. There had been one suspected case, but it was not a toxic subtype. The number of non-communicable diseases was the leading cause of the heavy health burden in Ukraine, and it was rising. In regards to damages to the eyes, WHO was collecting data. She called for a humanitarian corridor to be allowed. On sexual violence, as in every war, the WHO Manager had seen cases of sexual violence, and numbers were increasing especially in areas under conflict. Gender-based violence was occurring not only to women but also to men and others. WHO was also working on strengthening the country’s health system.

Tomson Phiri, Global Spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), said that, almost five months into the war in Ukraine, the country was facing multiple challenges. Intense fighting was continually displacing people, cutting off those who remained from commercial supply lines and holding back the country’s economy. One in three households in Ukraine was food-insecure, rising to one in two in some areas of the East and South. WFP rapidly scaled-up assistance through food distributions or cash in Ukraine, reaching 2.6 million people in June and continued to work with partners to reach areas close to front lines. In these areas fighting was preventing people, especially the elderly and families with children, from accessing food. WFP was buying as much food inside Ukraine as possible, supporting people with cash wherever there was access to banks and where markets were functioning.

In Ukraine, WFP had transferred US$140 million cash and vouchers to close to 1.9 million people since April. People received their cash within 72 hours of registering. Every dollar spent was directly injected into the local economy. In June, close to 925,000 people were assisted with cash worth US$66.5 million. Internally displaced people received US$75 per person for up to three people per family. WFP tried to buy grain, food and services within Ukraine where possible, as part of efforts to support the local economy. It remained difficult to secure sufficient access to fuel, with harmful knock-on effects for our work.

In Moldova, the second round of cash transfers was underway for an estimated 15,000 Moldovan families hosting refugees from Ukraine, to help them reduce the burden of additional costs of food and other essential needs. WFP had delivered more than half a million hot meals (three meals per day reaching an average of 1,966 people per day) in 90 refugee reception centers across 31 different localities/regions through cooperating partners. The third round of transfers was scheduled for July and in total, WFP was planning to conduct up to four rounds of transfers, depending on funding availability.

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the 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 to deliver life-saving assistance and was currently reaching 10.3 million people across Ukraine.

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