War in Ukraine could worsen Covid 19 pandemic, says WHO

By Jen Christensen, CNN

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday it fears the war in Ukraine will worsen the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is trying to do more to limit the spread of infectious diseases.

Cases in the region are down from the previous week, but there is a significant risk of more serious illness and death due to low vaccination rates in Ukraine, as well as among the more than two million people who have fled the country to surrounding areas, areas also with low vaccination rates. Ukraine’s vaccination rate against Covid-19 is around 34%, while neighboring Moldova’s is around 29%, according to Our World In Data.

There were a total of 791,021 new Covid-19 cases and 8,012 new deaths in Ukraine and neighboring countries between March 3 and March 9, according to a WHO situation report released on Sunday.

“Unfortunately, this virus will seize opportunities to continue to spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, during a press briefing on Wednesday. “As an organization we recognize that countries are in very different situations; they face different challenges. There are many movements and refugees associated with this crisis.

Also on Wednesday, Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said there would be an increase in Covid-19 in Ukraine, “without a doubt”. He attributed the expected increase to the lack of testing, the halt in vaccinations and a stressed and war-weary population with already low vaccination rates.

Ryan added that the world should avoid stereotypes about refugees and the disease.

“Let’s be very careful with our rhetoric because it always comes back,” he said, “that somehow people fleeing the horrors of war are going to bring things with them. Europe has a lot of Covid as it stands, and they have to deal with it, and the Ukrainian refugees are not going to be a game changer on that.

Sunday’s report says the WHO has procured therapeutics for Covid-19 and recommends vaccination campaigns and enhanced surveillance for Covid-19 and other infectious diseases.

Hungary is providing Ukrainian refugees with free Covid-19 vaccines, and the WHO has also offered laboratory support that includes Covid-19 tests.

The Romanian Ministry of Health has sent medical teams to test and administer Covid-19 vaccines to Ukrainians who have fled their country.

Covid-19 treatment is provided free of charge in Slovakia. Vaccinations against Covid-19 are also free in Moldova for Ukrainians, with its health ministry testing and monitoring for Covid-19, among other diseases.

In a joint statement with UNICEF and UNFPA, WHO called for an end to attacks on Ukrainian health systems. As of Sunday, there had been 31 verified attacks on health facilities, and more were suspected.

“Humanitarian partners and health workers must be able to safely maintain and scale up the delivery of essential health services, including vaccination against Covid-19 and poliomyelitis, and the supply of life-saving medicines to civilians. through Ukraine as well as to refugees crossing to neighboring countries. “The WHO statement reads. “Health services should be routinely available at border crossings, including prompt care and referral processes for children and pregnant women.”

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CNN’s Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report

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