November 26, 2022

Russia’s war on Ukraine leaving behind ‘catastrophic’ disruption of health services, WHO laments in Warsaw

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus addresses the Special Second Session of World Health Assembly This special session (the second in the history of the WHO) was called for in a decision adopted by the Member States at the Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly: https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA74/A74(16)-en.pdf During the session, the Member States will consider the following single substantive agenda item: Consideration of the benefits of developing a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response with a view towards the establishment of an intergovernmental process to draft and negotiate such a convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response, taking into account the report of the Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies. The Working Group on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies, established at the WHA74, has met on five occasions and considered findings from several bodies in preparing its report. More https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2021/11/29/default-calendar/second-special-session-of-the-world-health-assembly

Last updated on August 14th, 2022 at 09:46 am

The World Health Organization lamented on Thursday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is leaving behind a ‘catastrophic’ disruption of health services compounded by displacement. This is in addition to millions of people who remain trapped in the war-torn country.

WHO Executive Director for Health Emergencies Dr Mike Ryan, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros and WHO Representative in Ukraine Dr Jarno Harbicht at a warehouse with WHO emergency medical supplies, Lviv, Ukraine, May 8, 2022

“The disruption of health services across Ukraine has been catastrophic, compounded by displacement, and the fact that millions of people remain trapped in conflict areas, unable to move,” the Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at an international donor’s conference in Warsaw, Poland.

The conference was co-hosted by the Government of Poland and the Government of Sweden, in partnership with the European Council, and the European Commission.

Since the devastating invasion was launched in March, the healthcare infrastructure and its workers, alongside Ukrainians in need of medical aid, have been put at severe risk.

“Ukraine needs over 12,000 tons of humanitarian aid every day, but only 3,000 tons are getting through,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a speaker and co-host of the conference.

In addition to expected blockages and delays in healthcare during military conflicts, Russia has been accused of deliberately targeting hospitals, clinics, ambulances, healthcare workers and patients since the war began.

According to a March 25 report by the Associated Press, “Russian forces have repeatedly attacked Ukrainian medical facilities, striking at hospitals, ambulances, medics, patients and even newborns — with at least 34 assaults independently documented by The Associated Press.”

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Reports of deliberate attacks on medical aid, notably the airstrike on a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol, were denied by Russia’s Ministry of Defense in March. Yet, journalists and health organizations continue to document attacks.

In late March, WHO identified at least 64 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine within the war’s first month.

However, as of April 8, the Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC), reported more than 100 attacks; the agency has a nationwide network of on-the-ground sources reporting attacks as they happen.

“Let’s be clear: attacks on health are a violation of international humanitarian law – this is utterly unacceptable,” said Dr. Ghebreyesus.

Targeting medical facilities constitute a war crime and may be prosecuted.


Before the conflict began, WHO worked with the Ministry of Health to prepare for war by pre-positioning supplies and trauma kits. The agencies mobilized millions of dollars within days.

“So far, we have delivered more than 316 metric tonnes of medical supplies, supporting care for 7.5 million people, and more than 200 thousand surgeries,” said Dr. Ghebreyesus.

Moraweicki announced that $6.5 billion had been raised in donations made by countries, businesses and other organizations.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said he was grateful for the critical help during a time in which “the fate of our state is being decided.”

Dr. Ghebreyesus called for human rights and international humanitarian laws to be upheld during wartime.

“We call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire for Mariupol and other encircled cities, to allow civilians to evacuate, and to allow WHO and our partners to deliver vital supplies and assess health needs,” he said.

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