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As Ukrainians flee their country from Russia’s military onslaught, they face the prospect of the invisible enemy – bacteria and viruses that capitalize on the overcrowded conditions brought on by the bloody invasion, according to the Washington Post.
“As we’ve seen in wars over the years, viruses and bacteria are happy to exploit those situations where human beings are put under pressure,” said Máire Connolly, professor at the National University of Ireland Galway who studies the relationship between war and disease.
“These factors increase the risk of outbreaks among a population that are already dealing with the trauma of forced displacement.”
As the Russian offensive cuts off travel, Ukraine’s hospitals are running out of vital medical supplies. Healthcare workers relocate their patients to makeshift shelters as civilian casualties mount under the threat of an explosion at any moment’s notice, per the news outlet.
“What we’re dealing with now in Ukraine is a double crisis,” Connolly added, also noting the war conditions are fodder not only for COVID-19, but also the ongoing Ukraine polio outbreak, which international experts have been trying to end for months.
She describes the often the paradoxical plight of refugees as they flee to safety only to end up in unsanitary and often unsafe conditions that are the perfect environments for an infectious disease outbreak, such as the reemergence of tuberculosis, the paper added.
Ukraine suffered some of the world’s worst rates of COVID-19 as neighboring European countries enjoyed some of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, creating the threat of a COVID-19 surge as thousands, potentially millions, of Ukrainians seek refuge into neighboring countries, per the Post.
“I am heartbroken and gravely concerned for the health of the people in Ukraine in the escalating crisis,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said in a recent statement.
He posted a video on Twitter of newborns in Ukraine in a makeshift bomb shelter that he called “beyond heartbreaking.”
This past Sunday he warned the country is almost running on empty with oxygen supplies as US officials accuse the Russian military of firing on ambulances and hospitals.
“The majority of hospitals could exhaust their oxygen reserves within the next 24 hours. Some have already run out,” the WHO added.
Compounding the situation, experts warn the conflict may have also disturbed sensitive radioactive waste stored at the Chernobyl nuclear plant that could ignite another environmental disaster, according to the Post.
The paper added, however, international humanitarian organizations are rallying to provide emergency support, with the WHO providing $3.5 million in additional emergency funding, the U.S. Agency for International Development deploying a disaster response team to Poland, and together with the State Department, is providing nearly $54 million in additional assistance.
The White House has asked also for $6.4 billion in emergency aid with most going to humanitarian aid, according to the Post.
“Covid is understandably not top of mind for anyone [during war conditions],” Rachel Silverman, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, texted the Post from Germany.
“Our priorities have shifted to trauma care, ensure access to services, continuity of care, mental health and psychosocial support,” said Jarno Habicht, the WHO’s representative to Ukraine.
People wishing to donate can visit www.ukraine.who.foundation.