JEDDAH: Almost overnight, the war in Ukraine has forced doctors and nurses to become almost superhuman, forced to care for the sick, elderly and injured who are unable to flee the war-torn country , as health facilities break down and artillery attack.
Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, some 43 attacks on healthcare facilities have been documented by the World Health Organization’s Healthcare Attacks Monitoring System.
In 24 of the reported attacks, health facilities were damaged or completely destroyed, while in five cases ambulances were hit. A total of 12 people have been killed and 34 injured in the attacks, but aid agencies fear the national toll could be much higher.
“WHO strongly condemns acts of violence against health care,” the UN agency said in a March 14 statement. “Each attack deprives people of vital services. Attacks on health care are violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
Disrupted trade and distribution means that oxygen, insulin, surgical supplies, anesthetics, transfusion kits and other medical supplies, including those for the management of pregnancy complications, are already dangerously low in Ukraine.
“Supply chains have been severely disrupted,” the WHO said. “Many distributors are not operational, some stocks are inaccessible due to military operations, medical supplies are running out and hospitals are struggling to provide care to the sick and injured.”
Deteriorating health infrastructure has also led to growing concerns about hypothermia, frostbite and respiratory illnesses in the extreme cold. Alarm bells are also ringing for mental health issues and the lack of treatment for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers.
“In the face of this grim and worsening crisis, we are mobilizing a massive relief effort,” said UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, as a $40 million allocated fund from the Central Emergency Response was announced on March 14 to help aid agencies.
And due to active fighting in the north, east and south of the country, many community health workers have been forced to flee or go into hiding, leaving the elderly and people with reduced mobility to fend for themselves.
The scene is unfortunately all too familiar. Burning buildings, people crammed into bomb shelters for safety, wounded taken away by paramedics, and dead covered in pieces of cardboard waiting to be moved to a morgue to be identified by loved ones.
In a joint statement issued on March 13, WHO, the UN Children’s Fund and the UN Population Fund called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to attacks on professionals and health institutions in Ukraine.
“Attacking the most vulnerable – babies, children, pregnant women and those already suffering from illness and disease, and health workers risking their own lives to save lives – is an unconscionable act of cruelty,” they said. they stated.
Perhaps the most shocking images to emerge from Ukraine in recent days are those depicting the horrific aftermath of a missile strike on a maternity hospital in the besieged port city of Mariupol on March 9.
At least three people were killed in the attack, including a young girl, while another pregnant woman injured in the attack died with her baby on March 14. Photographs of women stretched out of the ruins have become emblematic of the brutal toll of the war. on civilians.
According to UNFPA, the UN reproductive health agency, two other Ukrainian maternity hospitals had already been attacked and destroyed before this strike.
Nestled on the outskirts of Kyiv, Leleka Maternity Hospital offers the best birthing experience for expectant mothers. Today, the maternity ward is a general hospital caring for wounded soldiers while providing emergency obstetric care.
More than 20 babies have been born in the hospital since February 24. Nearby villagers fleeing the shelling could take up to four hours to reach the hospital, once easily accessible by highway. Now people have to take the country roads to seek shelter.
“It is really difficult to understand what is happening in Kyiv now. And also, in our hospitals which were considered one of the best and most numerous hospitals in Ukraine. Personally, I would never have imagined that this could be a reality in Europe. I’ve only seen such images in movies before,” said Vadim Zukin, COO of Lela Maternity.
Patients at the Ohmatdyt National Children’s Hospital, Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital near the center of kyiv, woke up today to rocket attacks and fragments found near the hospital.
The hospital also opened its doors to treat all war-affected patients. New York Times photographer Juan Diego Arredondo was transported to Ohmatdyt for treatment while his colleague Brent Reno was announced dead at the scene.
Anastasia Magerramova, Ohmatdyt’s press officer, shared images and videos from inside the hospital walls showing wards full of recovering shock patients. Doctors and hospital staff have moved some patients underground while the most vulnerable have at least one attending physician and one nurse by their side.
Russian officials say the maternity ward was taken over by Ukrainian extremists to serve as a base and no patients or doctors were left inside. The Russian ambassador to the UN and the Russian embassy in London also claimed that the images of the aftermath of the attack were fake.
Moscow says its “special military operation” in Ukraine aims to protect the safety of Russia and that of Russian speakers in the eastern region of Donbass. Western nations accused Russia of invading a sovereign country and committing war crimes.
“Attacks on health personnel and health workers have a direct impact on people’s ability to access essential health services, especially women, children and other vulnerable groups,” UN agencies said. United Nations in their joint statement.
“We have already seen that the health care needs of pregnant women, new mothers, young children and the elderly in Ukraine are increasing, while access to services is severely limited by violence.
More than 4,300 births have taken place in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion “and 80,000 Ukrainian women are expected to give birth in the next three months”, the UN officials added.
“The healthcare system in Ukraine is clearly under strain, and its collapse would be a disaster. Every effort should be made to prevent this from happening.
“We call for an immediate ceasefire, which includes unhindered access so that people in need can access humanitarian aid. A peaceful resolution to end the war in Ukraine is possible.
The humanitarian situation in Mariupol is particularly dire, as aid cannot enter and civilians cannot flee to safety after repeated failures to establish evacuation corridors. Access to food and drinking water is a particular health problem.
“For young children, it can be particularly dangerous,” Kate White, emergency manager for Doctors Without Borders, said in a March 11 statement.
“Unlike adults, their bodies cannot withstand large fluctuations in food and water intake, and they are therefore at high risk of dehydration. Contaminated water can also cause diarrhea, which in turn can trigger a vicious circle, with diarrhea leading to further dehydration, and in extreme situations this can also lead to death.
Some 18 million people in Ukraine are believed to have been affected by the war, including 6.7 million internally displaced people.
More than 2.8 million people crossed into neighboring countries in the first two weeks of the invasion – the majority heading west into Poland – leading to the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.
Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are banned from leaving the country, meaning those crossing into neighboring countries are mostly women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities, according to the International Committee of the Cross. -Red.
As aid agencies struggle to evacuate civilians trapped in the conflict zone, deliver medical supplies and provide sanitary housing to displaced households, the invisible scars caused by the trauma of war will be more difficult to treat.
“Very often the mental health consequences take years to manifest, but also require immediate assistance,” White said. “We will have to deal with the mental health impact of this war on a massive scale for years to come.”