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Medical Emergency

'You can't go on a waiting list for oxygen': WHO concerned about vital supplies at Ukraine hospitals

Dr Mike Ryan has warned something has to change to allow medical resources to reach hospitals.

THE WORLD HEALTH Organization (WHO) has again expressed concern at dwindling supplies of vital medical resources in Ukraine as the Russian invasion of the country intensifies.

At the weekend, the WHO warned that the majority of hospitals in Ukraine would soon exhaust their reserves of oxygen, putting thousands of people at risk.

In a press conference yesterday, Dr Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, reiterated the need for safe transit for oxygen and other vital medical supplies. 

“In Ukraine, there are 2,000 people who need oxygen to survive and, in fact, if anything that number has gone up because we have people with injuries, people undergoing surgery who need oxygen, we’ve children with childhood pneumonia, we’ve women in difficulties,” he said.

So oxygen is not just lifesaving in Covid, it is lifesaving full stop. You need it when you need it, you can’t wait until tomorrow for oxygen you can’t wait ’til next week, you can’t be put on a waiting list for oxygen. You can’t stand in a queue for oxygen, oxygen saves your life right now.

He said if oxygen and other critical drugs cannot be fed into the healthcare system in Ukraine “people will die needlessly”.

“When you see nurses mechanically ventilating infants in basements of hospitals, even the toughest of us struggle to watch that,” Dr Ryan said.

“It’s really important that we don’t just break this down into supplies, and break this down into commodities that we have to deliver, and corridors and we speak in these very abstract terms around what’s needed,” Ryan said.

“People’s bodies and people’s bones are being broken, people’s lives are being lost and there isn’t a health service available to be able to deliver lifesaving care. And we can’t supply that healthcare service at the moment.”

He said something has to change to create the conditions to allow these vital resources reach the country’s hospitals.

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also told the press conference that the organisation was “deeply concerned about reports of attacks on health facilities and health workers.”

“The sanctity and neutrality of healthcare, including of health workers, patient supplies, transport and facilities, and the right to safe access to care must be respected and protected,” he said.

Attacks on healthcare were “in violation of international humanitarian law,” he added.

The WHO confirmed a report last week in which a hospital came under attack from heavy weapons, killing four people and injuring 10, including six health workers, the WHO chief said.

- With reporting from AFP.

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