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IRC warns of “catastrophic health crisis” in Ukraine as health facilities are attacked

Pregnant women walk in the basement of maternity hospital as air raid sirens are heard in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, on March 14.
Pregnant women walk in the basement of maternity hospital as air raid sirens are heard in Mykolaiv, Ukraine

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned Friday that civilians in Ukraine are facing a “catastrophic health crisis” as attacks on health infrastructure are limiting access to “life-saving services and supplies.” 

The IRC said 64 attacks on healthcare facilities, transport, and personnel were recorded over the first four weeks of the invasion.

During this time, the IRC claimed more than 4,300 babies have been born in Ukraine and 80,000 births are expected in the next three months, but “as Ukraine’s health system continues to collapse, the risk to new mothers and babies will grow.”

“Lack of access to safe water and critical healthcare, and the potential for a surge in vaccine-preventable diseases like Covid-19 and polio may significantly exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” the IRC said.

The organization’s Senior Director of Health Mesfin Teklu said people displaced in crowded reception centers and bunkers are at risk of contracting Covid-19 as fewer than 40% of Ukrainians have been vaccinated against the virus.

Teklu said Ukraine was also experiencing a polio outbreak and the conflict has disrupted vaccinations.

“In some areas most affected by the conflict, including Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, polio vaccination rates are below 50%,” he said.

“Ukraine also struggles with high rates of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis,” Teklu added. “The IRC is worried about these and other infectious diseases spreading as the conflict persists and water, sanitation and hygiene systems continue to become damaged.”

The IRC called for the protection of healthcare access “by ensuring the safety of providers and the free flow of medical supplies and equipment,” adding that “global leaders must prioritize support to the most vulnerable, including women, children and the elderly.”

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