A crisis is emerging in the shadow of conflict across Ukraine, one that extends beyond the country’s borders. Ukraine’s already stressed healthcare system is buckling under the weight of expectation and medical needs as people continue fleeing conflict areas seeking safety. The Red Cross is working around the clock to address needs far greater than what’s visible to the eye.
“We know it’s possible to prevent a secondary crisis, but no one organization or entity can do it alone,” said Xavier Castellanos Mosquera, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Under Secretary General.
People at Risk
Since the conflict intensified in February, more than 290 health care facilities across Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 1.4 million people are without running water across eastern Ukraine, while the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reports an additional 4.6 million people in the country at risk for losing access to running water — a growing risk of water-borne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea. Lack of electricity makes it impossible for water treatment and sanitation efforts to be effective.
Health systems in immediate neighboring countries, including Romania, Belarus, Hungary and Moldova, were already stretched prior to the conflict due to COVID-19. While each country is providing health support to an increased number of people, this can divert valuable health resources away from the people who are still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19. The sheer volume of current and future health needs as the conflict continues requires additional resources.
“The lack of medical supplies, health care staff and critical infrastructure grow 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.”
On top of these factors, people on the move are forced to delay treatment for existing chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer. In the absence of vaccinations to meet safe thresholds — including for COVID-19 — there is the very strong likelihood of the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases. Ukraine also has some of the highest burden of chronic infectious diseases in Europe, particularly HIV and tuberculosis — a massive risk not only for displaced people themselves, but also for Ukraine’s health care system once they return.
“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 Castellanos Mosquera.
How the Red Cross is Helping
In Uzhhorod, Ukraine — where roughly 100,000 people from conflict-torn areas have fled, doubling the city’s population — a Red Cross health center will open this month to treat both urgent and primary care needs free of charge to all patients. It’s the first of its kind in the area. In collaboration with local authorities, the clinic aims to serve people in need for years to come. The Ukrainian Red Cross has nearly a dozen mobile health teams in the country with more on the way and is providing mental health and psychosocial support to people who have been forced to flee. In addition, food, baby supplies and hygiene items are available to anyone in need.
In Moldova, Red Cross teams are preparing to install more handwashing stations and continue to distribute hygiene kits. Access to clean water — the number one prevention mechanism for disease prevention — remains a priority. Red Cross volunteers across eastern Europe are also integrating with teams distributing emergency cash to people who have fled Ukraine to ensure they have access to critical health resources and information.
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 health care, mental health support and emergency relief to people arriving by train from Chop, Ukraine.
American Red Cross Response
For its part, the American Red Cross has contributed $44.3 million dollars to Ukraine crisis relief efforts. This includes $40.3 million dollars to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to support the most vital humanitarian needs of those affected, including food, shelter, critical care items and first aid. The American Red Cross has also contributed $2 million dollars to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to support their life-saving efforts within Ukraine, and contributed $2 million dollars to the Danish Red Cross to provide food and non-perishable food items, first aid kits, blankets and hygiene kits to people displaced within Ukraine.
Additionally, the American Red Cross is working with International Medical Corps to support the procurement of medical supplies and equipment to address the urgent medical needs on the ground in Ukraine.
The American Red Cross has also deployed several international crisis responders to Poland, Moldova, Hungary and Romania to provide humanitarian relief in support of the international Red Cross operation helping families who fled their homes. These highly trained crisis responders—who are lending skills such as information management, cash assistance programming, GIS systems, communications and crisis leadership — are supporting on-the-ground relief efforts alongside local teams, including the Polish Red Cross, Moldovan Red Cross and Romanian Red Cross.
Additionally, in line with its work supporting military families, the American Red Cross has sent trained staff to Europe to support the emergency communication needs of U.S. military members so they can stay in touch with family members back home. The Red Cross Hero Care Network is a Congressionally-chartered program that connects service members and their families in times of need. Red Crossers are also distributing comfort kits containing hygiene items and other necessities to service members and U.S. State Department staff.
To learn more about the Red Cross response in Ukraine, visit redcross.org/ukraine.