Ukraine Crisis: IFRC calls for urgent support to prevent health crisis

Ukraine Crisis

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is calling for urgent support from the global community to prevent a health crisis in the shadow of armed conflict across Ukraine.

“The Red Cross calls on governments and the international community to provide funds for inclusive access to health services and vaccines, testing and treatment, clean water and mental health and psychological support in the long-term,” said IFRC under-secretary-general Xavier Castellanos Mosquera.

Ukraine’s already stressed healthcare system is buckling as people continue fleeing conflict areas seeking safety. The IFRC says it has helped roughly 2.2 million people in need since the war started in Ukraine and has provided more than 2.3 million kg of humanitarian aid.

“We know it’s possible to prevent a secondary crisis, but no one organization or entity can do it alone,” added Mosquera.

The Red Cross is involved in emergency medical care provision within Ukraine and its neighbors. A clinic set to open along the border with Hungary in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, will remain there for the long term to serve many types of medical needs. It will eventually be run entirely by local staff supported by the Ukrainian Red Cross.

More than 90,000 Red Cross workers are responding to the crisis. The exact number of staff and volunteers involved is hard to pin down due to the fluid nature of the situation, according to IFRC. Red Crossers are helping with everything from sheltering to mental health support, emergency cash distribution, health needs, and water and sanitation. 

More than 1.4 million people are without running water across eastern Ukraine, while UNOCHA reports an additional 4.6 million people in the country are at risk of losing access to running water, causing a growing risk of water-borne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea. 

Lack of electricity makes effective water treatment impossible. Meanwhile, more than 290 healthcare facilities across Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed during the conflict, according to the World Health Organization.

“The lack of medical supplies, healthcare staff and critical infrastructure grows day by day,” said Nick Prince, IFRC Emergency Health delegate. “The millions who have migrated to the western area of Ukraine and Eastern European countries are at an elevated risk of infectious diseases given the overcrowded living conditions, limited access to shelter, nutritional stress, and exposure to the elements,” he added.

On top of these factors, people on the move are forced to delay treatment for existing chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. At the same time, there is a strong likelihood of the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases. 

In Hungary, the Hungarian Red Cross, supported by the Spanish Red Cross, has set up health posts at the border crossings to provide first aid, primary healthcare, mental health support, and emergency relief to people arriving by train from Chop, Ukraine.

Asked about the Spanish involvement, the Red Cross said during large emergencies, local societies request specific expertise from other national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to aid in response efforts. The Spanish RC was instrumental in setting up a clinic in Záhony, Hungary, and is now handing over the facility to the Hungarians.

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