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The World Health Organization (WHO) chief said Thursday that access to Ukraine’s besieged city of Mariupol and other embattled areas is now “critical.”
Speaking to the United Nations (UN) Security Council, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said that while supplies were ready for the city, access remained a challenge.
“We have now established supply lines from our warehouse in Lviv to many cities of Ukraine. But, challenges of access remain. We need unfettered access,” he pleaded.
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“Loads ready for Mariupol remain in staging areas and cannot proceed. Access to this and other areas is now critical,” Tedros explained.
Over the past 24 hours, Russian forces have fired at eight cities and villages in the eastern Donetsk region, with dozens of civilians killed and injured as a result of the attacks.
The Russian military were firing at Mariupol, Avdiivka, Kramatorsk, Pokrovsk, Novoselydivka, Verkhnotoretske, Krymka and Stepne.
Tedros highlighted the devastating consequences Russia’s assault of the country has had on the health of its people.
“The war in Ukraine is having devastating consequences for the health of Ukraine’s people; consequences that will reverberate for years or decades to come,” he noted. “There is severe disruption to health services and access to basic commodities, as a result of widespread destruction of infrastructure, including health facilities.”
The agency has verified at least 43 attacks on health care facilities and service vehicles, with 12 people killed and 34 injured.
In any conflict, Tedros pointed out that attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law, with disruption to services and supplies in Ukraine posing an “extreme risk” to those with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and TB: some of the leading causes of mortality in Ukraine.
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In addition, the displacement of its people is likely to increase the risk of the spread of diseases like measles, pneumonia and polio.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 3,328,692 refugees have fled Ukraine since Feb. 24.
Tedros said that the war is also exacerbating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine, noting that critical shortages of oxygen would hamper the ability to treat coronavirus patients and that at least eight facilities for producing and storing liquid oxygen in Ukraine have now closed.
The WHO has sent about 100 metric tonnes of medical supplies, or enough for 4,500 trauma patients and 450,000 primary health care patients for one month.
Tedros said that they were preparing to send a further 108 metric tonnes, including oxygen generators, electrical generators and defibrillators.
To further support efforts, the WHO is coordinating the deployment of 20 Emergency Medical Teams to Ukraine and neighboring countries.
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Tedros said protecting refugees – especially women and girls – must be a top priority, and called for an immediate ceasefire and a political solution.
“Prolonged conflict is in nobody’s interest and will only prolong the suffering of the most vulnerable. The life-saving medicine we need right now is peace,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.