More Than Half of Ukrainians Vulnerable to Health Risks

March 23, 2022 — The numbers can be frightening: 3.5 million Ukrainians have fled to other countries since the war with Russia began a month ago. According to the International Organization for Migration, another 6 million people have been forced to flee their homes.

This is in addition to the 12 million Ukrainians who now live in the zone controlled by Russian forces.

This means that nearly half of all Ukrainians are either on the move or unable to move due to the ongoing conflict. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program, told a virtual press conference Wednesday.

“This is an incredible, embarrassing statistic four weeks after the invasion,” he said.

A closer look at the 6 million internally displaced people shows just how vulnerable they are, Ryan said, including:

  • 27% of these households have babies under the age of 5.
  • In 56% of families, a person is over 60 years old.
  • 32% of families have a chronically ill person.
  • 10% of families have a pregnant woman.
  • 19.5% of these households have persons with disabilities.

 The mental health

Ryan said that these numbers “do not even address the mental health issues and trauma that these people have endured,” Ryan said.

Although many media outlets focus on refugees, “within Ukraine, there is also an incredibly complex problem and very, very complex needs.”

Ryan expects things to get worse before they get better.

“I don’t like being Cassandra, but the challenges we’re facing so far, collectively…are the tip of the iceberg of necessity,” Ryan said. “Further massive expansion of aid within Ukraine requires in the coming weeks.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D., agreed.

“The situation continues to deteriorate in many country regions and is critical in the Mariupol and Buchinsky districts,” he said.

In addition, service and supply disruptions across Ukraine pose an extreme risk for people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV, and tuberculosis, among the country’s leading causes of death.

“Displacement, poor housing, and overcrowding caused by conflict also increase the risk of measles, pneumonia, polio, and COVID-19,” he said.

The 64 confirmed attacks on healthcare have exacerbated the problem since the start of the war. Adhanom Ghebreyesus said health systems, institutions, and healthcare workers “should never be the target.”

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