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Health System Collapsing in Conflict-ridden E. Ukraine

FILE - Volunteers and doctors unload a car with medical supplies from a volunteer organization to the army, at a hospital in Artemovsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sept. 18, 2014.

The World Health Organization reports the health care system in eastern Ukraine's conflict-ridden Donbas region is collapsing. WHO says more than five million people affected by the humanitarian crisis in areas under the control of pro-Russian militants fighting for a separate state are in dire need of health care services.

Ukraine’s health care system was broken prior to the outbreak of fighting between Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and the government in Kyiv in March. But, now it is completely collapsing, especially in areas where fighting is taking place.

The World Health Organization says people trapped in the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk are essentially without any medical assistance. WHO representative to Ukraine, Dorit Nitzan, says hospitals often experience water and electricity cuts; households, hospitals and institutions do not have much food available, and medicines are in short supply.

“Hospitals … where they have specialists in emergency medicine, in other areas-pediatrics, chemotherapy, etcetera, these hospitals are now out of reach for the people in those regions because they are under the militant control and therefore people cannot reach them. There are more than 5.1 million people that are affected by this crisis directly in that area, including the IDPs-the internally displaced that left,” she stated.

As of January 6, the U.N. Human Rights Office reports more than 4,800 people have been killed and 10,468 wounded since fighting began last April.

WHO says people facing the gravest health risks include the estimated 700,000 internally displaced people, the Roma community, children, women, and elderly, as well as people living with disabilities and the chronically sick.

Dr. Nitzan says about 32,000 people living with HIV/AIDS are from the Donbas region. She adds the number of victims of this disease probably is greatly underestimated. She says a large majority of people with HIV/AIDS also is suffering from tuberculosis.

“Twenty-five percent of the new cases per year of TB, tuberculosis patients in Donetsk, are diagnosed already when they have multi-drug resistant TB. So, now we assume that it is even higher from the scattered data that we have-that we assume it is about 40 percent of the newly-diagnosed people with TB already with multi-drug resistance,” said Nitzan.

Dr. Nitzan says people with HIV/AIDS and TB do no have access to the full package of medicines they need to treat their illnesses. She says pregnant women, people suffering from cancers and diabetes and those needing mental and psychological support are not getting the care they need.

She says the country has practically run out of life-saving vaccines and warns of the risk of outbreaks of communicable diseases, including vaccine preventable diseases like polio and measles.

She says WHO is working with humanitarian organizations to provide primary health care services, medicines, ambulances and other essential medical items to the most vulnerable communities.