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Ukraine war: 'Please, let us in,' WHO issues plea to reach sick and injured

8 July 2022 - The UN health agency (WHO) issued an urgent appeal on Friday for access to sick and injured people caught up in the war in Ukraine, including "hundreds" of landmine victims, "premature babies, pregnant woman, older people, many of whom have been left behind".

More than four and half months since Russia's invasion, civilians have continued to be targeted in explosions and missile strikes, particularly in eastern cities including Donetsk, Sloviansk, Makiivka, Oleksandrivka and Yasynuvata, but also in southern oblasts, in Odessa and Mykolaiv.

Senior UN officials have long called for humanitarian corridors to be established to enable the safe and constant delivery of assistance to extremely vulnerable populations in Ukraine. But OCHA, the UN aid coordination wing, has frequently signalled that access in many places remains too dangerous or is blocked.

Corridor call

"I am sure that once there will be corridors, we will be there," said Dr. Nitzan, speaking via video link in Odessa to journalists in Geneva. "So, the fact that there are no corridors speaks to itself, surely all of us, asking in (a) different form, please, let us in."

The perilous situation continues to hamper lifesaving aid operations, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which described how medical services in many places were now "seriously stretched".

Highly vulnerable

Speaking from Odessa, Dr Dorit Nitzan, WHO Ukraine Crisis Incident Manager, warned that others in need of immediate help included those with chronic but preventable illnesses.

"The people who have not been able to receive early diagnosis and treatment for cancer, who now have much more advanced tumours and more critical illness," she said. "People who have not been able to receive medications for hypertension and now have failing hearts or have suffered strokes. Diabetics who could not get treatment and whose disease is now severe."

NGOs' vital role

Dr Nitzan highlighted the crucial role played by the authorities, non-profit organizations and volunteers in delivering medicines and relief items on behalf of the WHO, when it is unable to secure an agreement to do so itself.

"We do not have ourselves access to all areas," she continued. "Many areas are under fire, under attack, as I said we were supposed to go to Mykolaiv this morning, we are waiting for security clearances was okay last night but today it's different, so things are changing."

Nonetheless, WHO experts still need access to patients to assess their needs, give advice and assistance, the WHO official insisted.

"People have been disabled in all kinds of ways," Dr Nitzan continued, pointing to those whose hearing or eyesight have been damaged in shelling attacks and others who have suffered burns or had to have their limbs amputated after stepping on a landmine.

"If we cannot come with the experts to the hospitals, to the people, to those in need, we really cannot do the best of jobs," she said. "So, what we are asking is to have humanitarian corridors to allow us to step in and to care for those in need."

Mental trauma

In addition to addressing people's immediate physical health needs, the WHO noted her serious concerns about the mental trauma of the war and the "fear, grief and uncertainty" it has created.

According to OCHA's latest humanitarian update, while east Ukraine accounts for most of the active warfare, more missile attacks and casualties were reported in the last week in several other regions.

These include eastern Kharkiv and western Khmelnytski oblasts, where civilians and civilian infrastructure have been impacted heavily.

Communities in both the south and the east are facing rising food insecurity, particularly where intense fighting has left them cut off from supply lines, warned Thomson Phiri from the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

"One in three families in Ukraine is food insecure, rising to one in two in the east and south," said Mr. Phiri, who added that WFP food or cash distributions had reached 2.6 million people last month.

Latest estimates from the Ukrainian Government indicate that 25,000 kilometres of roads and more than 300 bridges have been damaged or destroyed since 24 February.

Other critical infrastructure across the country has also been hit, amounting to $95 billion in damage.

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