WHO says 64 hospitals attacked since Russian invasion of Ukraine

UN agency condemns attacks in ‘strongest possible terms’ and notes attacks on health facilities are a breach of international law.

A bombed out hospital in Sievierodonetsk with rubble strewn on the ground in front,
A hospital damaged by shelling, in Sievierodonetsk in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region [Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via Reuters]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it has verified some 64 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine since Russia began its invasion a month ago.

The confirmed the attacks took place between February 24 and March 21 at a rate of between two and three each day, killing at least 15 people, the WHO said in a statement.

“Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law, but a disturbingly common tactic of war – they destroy critical infrastructure, but worse, they destroy hope,” said Dr Jarno Habicht, the WHO representative in Ukraine. “They deprive already vulnerable people of care that is often the difference between life and death. Health care is not – and should never be – a target.”

Ukraine has accused Russia of bombing hospitals and health facilities including a children’s and maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol in what one city officials called “a war crime without justification”.

Nearly four million people have been forced to flee the country, according to the UN, with Ukraine putting up fierce resistance in the face of the Russian advance. Cities, including Kharkiv, Kyiv and Mariupol, have come under intense aerial bombardment with people forced into underground shelters for safety.

On Wednesday, the United States said it had determined that Russia had committed war crimes in Ukraine, singling out the bombardment of Mariupol and the attack on the maternity hospital.

“Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources. As with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Russia has denied that it has deliberately targeted civilians.

The four-week war has also forced Ukraine to repurpose hospitals to care for the wounded, disrupting the provision of basic medical services to the rest of the population.

Nearly 1,000 health facilities are close to the front lines or in areas of occupation, the WHO noted.

“The consequence of that – limited or no access to medicines, facilities and health professionals – mean that treatments of chronic conditions have almost stopped,” the statement said.

A nurse cares for a wounded soldier in a hospital near Kyiv
The WHO says the need to treat those wounded in the war has diverted attention from other medical needs and disrupted treatment and routine vaccination programmes [Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA]

About half of the country’s pharmacies are thought to be closed, with many healthcare workers displaced by the fighting or unable to work, it added.

COVID-19 vaccination and routine immunisation have also come to a halt.

Before the invasion, at least 50,000 people were being vaccinated against COVID-19 every day. The WHO says that between February 24 and March 15, just 175,000 people were vaccinated against the virus.

The UN agency said it was working closely with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health to address the problems caused by the war and had sent more than 100 metric tonnes of medical equipment over the border to health facilities across the country.

Some 36 metric tonnes of supplies including trauma kits, medication for chronic diseases, and paediatric drugs are currently on their way to the western city of Lviv, with an additional 108 metric tonnes waiting to be dispatched.

“What we are delivering – and where – meets the very needs of people on the ground, where Ukrainian health workers are working around the clock in unimaginable circumstances. A team of trained healthcare professionals can, with one WHO trauma kit that contains surgical equipment, consumables, and antiseptics – save the lives of 150 wounded people. In other words, delivering 10 such kits means 1,500 lives saved,” said Dr Habicht.

The WHO said it also sent urgent medical supplies – sufficient to treat 150 trauma patients and provide healthcare to 15,000 patients for three months – as part of a United Nations convoy to Sumy, in northeastern Ukraine, earlier this month.

It has also deployed more than 20 emergency medical teams to Ukraine, and has assisted the displaced in Poland and the Republic of Moldova.

Source: Al Jazeera