Hostilities and a global pandemic: a two-fold challenge for eastern Ukraine

“I wanted to continue providing people with the assistance and support that they deserve,” says Oleh Mikhalov, about his decision to join WHO in conflict-affected eastern Ukraine, 5 years ago.

The former humanitarian worker was forced to flee his home in 2014 when hostilities broke out in Luhansk. He now works in Sievierodonetsk, a city located in an area of Luhanska Region under government control. His field-based team assesses the provision of local health-care services, identifying acute health needs and ways in which WHO can respond to those needs using existing resources.

In late 2019, following an assessment of health-care services in Sievierodonetsk by Oleh’s team, WHO transferred equipment for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to the local laboratories, which is now being widely used for COVID-19 testing. As it turns out, the equipment was delivered just in time to aid in the COVID-19 response.

“Thanks to the support provided by WHO, the labs in Luhanska Region were well prepared for this pandemic,” Oleh notes.

Strengthening health systems impacted by conflict

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health system in eastern Ukraine was already in a fragile state. Many health workers had left the region, and health facilities had been neglected for years.

The pandemic has placed additional demands on resources-strapped health professionals and further strained an already-fragile health system.

Since 2017, WHO has been supporting local health and laboratory centres in areas under government control through field-based teams.

Once acute health-related needs are addressed, the team evaluates how health services have improved and whether they benefit the people and adhere to WHO standards. Such field teams are instrumental to improving access to services in places where health-care systems have been disrupted or neglected due to years of armed conflict.


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