Ukraine-Russia: One in three in Ukraine with chronic illness such as cancer cannot get medicine or treatment

One in three people in Ukraine with a chronic illness such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease cannot get access to the medications or treatment they need, a report by the World Health Organisation has found.

Surgeons perform an operation on the leg of a wounded Ukrainian soldier at a military hospital in Zaporizhzhia.
Surgeons perform an operation on the leg of a wounded Ukrainian soldier at a military hospital in Zaporizhzhia.

The WHO said there were “severe challenges” facing the Ukrainian health system, pointing to information that suggested nearly all health facilities and hospitals in Luhansk oblast are either damaged or destroyed, while others are in a “critical” situation. More than a quarter of those surveyed said that there was no access to any health care in their area.

Preliminary results from an ongoing nationwide health needs assessment by WHO, conducted in partnership with Premise, found that of the 1,000 households that have responded so far, one in three that have at least one person with a chronic disease said they had faced challenges in accessing care for those conditions. The survey also shows that two out of five households have at least one member with a chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer.

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Less than a third of respondents sought out health-care services recently; of those, 39 per cent cited the security situation as the main reason, while 27 per cent reported that no health-care services were available at all in their area.

Most households surveyed are sheltering in their own homes at this time, while 11 per cent are staying with friends and family members in relatively safer areas, eight per cent are on the move within Ukraine, and three per cent are in a shelter or camp for internally displaced people.

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“Two months into the war, our findings show the urgent need for continued health system support in Ukraine,” said Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO representative and head of the WHO Country Office in Ukraine.

“Through our long-standing engagement with the Ministry of Health, national health institutions and our many partners and donors, WHO has been able to reach nearly 7.5 million people over the past eight weeks with life-saving supplies, equipment and medicines. But we are still unable to reach some of the hardest-hit areas in the east where the health system has all but collapsed. We have received reports, for instance, that nearly all health facilities and hospitals in Luhansk oblast are either damaged or destroyed, and the situation is critical in several others. It is vital that we gain access so we can assess health needs and move vital supplies into affected areas, including Mariupol. Civilians have a right to health, even in times of war.”

It sid Ukraine’s health system is facing multiple challenges, with the situation growing more dire by the day. The risk of infectious diseases, and increasingly waterborne diseases, is significant, and routine immunisation, including COVID-19 vaccination, is greatly diminished because of the war.

Access to reproductive, maternal and antenatal care, as well as mental health care, is severely impacted due to security concerns, restricted mobility, broken supply chains and mass displacement. And health care continues to come under attack, with more than 160 verified incidents since the war began on 24 February.

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