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Ukraine hospitals could run out of oxygen in 24 hours as war disrupts health services, WHO says

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A woman holds a child as people arrive at a train station converted into a refugee center, at the border control between Poland and Ukraine, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Przemysl, Poland, February 25, 2022.
Kacper Pempel | Reuters

Ukrainian hospitals could run out of oxygen supplies in the next 24 hours as Russia’s invasion disrupts transportation across the country, putting thousands of more lives at risk, according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO, in a statement Sunday, said trucks are unable to transport oxygen supplies from plants to hospitals around the country, including the capital, Kyiv, which faced a barrage of Russian missile attacks overnight.

“The oxygen supply situation is nearing a very dangerous point in Ukraine,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Europe Regional Director Hans Kluge said in a joint statement. “The majority of hospitals could exhaust their oxygen reserves within the next 24 hours. Some have already run out. This puts thousands of lives at risk,” they said.

Ukraine needs a 25% surge of oxygen supplies compared to the country’s needs before Russia invaded last week, according to the WHO. The global health agency called for the establishment to create a safe transit corridor to increase oxygen supplies to Ukraine via a logistics route through neighboring Poland.

“It is imperative to ensure that lifesaving medical supplies – including oxygen – reach those who need them,” Tedros and Kluge said.

Critical hospital services are also under threat from electricity and power shortages, according to the WHO. Ambulances transporting patients are in danger of getting caught in the crossfire between Russian and Ukrainian troops, the global health agency said.

Oxygen supplies are crucial for patients with Covid-19, as well people with health complications stemming from pregnancy and childbirth, chronic illnesses, sepsis, injuries and trauma, according to the WHO. There are currently 1,700 people hospitalized with Covid in Ukraine.

The WHO said Ukraine had made significant progress in strengthening its health-care system before Russia’s invasion, including scaling up oxygen therapy to treat patients critically ill with Covid-19. “This progress is now at risk of being derailed during the current crisis,” Tedros and Kluge said.

Ukraine has faced a surge of omicron Covid infections, with cases rising a staggering 555% between Jan. 15 and Feb. 25, according to a report from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The country faces an increased risk of Covid contagion as civilians flee the Russian invasion. Another Covid outbreak combined with increasing numbers of people injured in the war will put even more pressure on Ukraine’s already stretched health-care system, according to the U.N. report.

Ukraine has suffered at least 240 civilian casualties since the Russian invasion began including 64 dead and 176 injured, according to the U.N. report. However, the U.N. humanitarian affairs agency believes the actual number of civilian casualties is considerably higher.

More than 368,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighboring European countries, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The Ukrainian government estimates that the Russian invasion could result in 5 million refugees in a worst-case scenario.

Many Ukrainians are fleeing to Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. The U.N. has said the scale of the humanitarian crisis will test the capacity of neighboring nations. The U.N refugee agency has posted information in Ukrainian, Russian and English for people seeking assistance.

Damage to civilian infrastructure has left hundreds of thousands of people are without electricity or water, according to the U.N. Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed, and the shelling of bridges and roads has left some communities cut off from markets, according to the U.N.

“The ongoing conflict continues to have severe human costs, causing a growing number of civilian casualties, interrupting livelihoods and damaging critical civilian infrastructure, including hundreds of homes, water and sanitation infrastructure, schools and health facilities,” the U.N. humanitarian affairs office said.

The fighting has forced U.N. agencies and international humanitarian organizations to pause response activities in many parts of the country. However, the U.N. and its partners remain on the ground and are prepared to scale-up operations when they have better access to the hardest-hit areas and the security situation allows a full rollout of humanitarian assistance, according to the U.N. report.

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