WHO calls for safe transport of critically low medical oxygen supplies

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Feb. 27 (UPI) — Ukrainian hospitals are running “dangerously low” on medical oxygen supplies amid the dual crises of the Russian invasion and the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization said Sunday.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for humanitarian healthcare efforts to remain a priority in the global response to the ongoing violence in the Eastern European country.

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“During the crisis in #Ukraine, health must remain a priority in the humanitarian response, with health systems & facilities remaining protected, functional, safe & accessible to all who need essential medical services & health workers protected so they can continue to save lives,” Tedros tweeted Sunday.

The WHO said trucks have been unable to transport oxygen supplies to hospitals across Ukraine and hospitals could exhaust their reserves within the next 24 hours. Some facilities have already run out.

Hospitals are dealing with the added risk of electricity shortages and crossfire threatening ambulances transporting patients.

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The WHO said medical oxygen supplies are particularly needed for COVID-19 patients, 1,700 of whom were hospitalized as of Sunday in Ukraine. Less than 40% of Ukrainians have been fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus as of Feb. 15.

Other critical illnesses stemming from childbirth, chronic conditions, sepsis, injuries and trauma also require oxygen supplies.

Further complicating the shortages is Ukraine’s inability to import zeolite, a chemical used in the production of medical oxygen.

“In recent years, with WHO support, Ukraine had made significant strides in strengthening its health systems under an ambitious health reform program,” the WHO said in a release. “This included the rapid scale-up of oxygen therapy capacity for severely ill patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the over 600 health facilities nationwide assessed by WHO during the pandemic, close to half were directly supported with supplies, technical know-how and infrastructure investments, enabling health authorities to save tens of thousands of lives.

“This progress is now at risk of being derailed during the current crisis.”

Tedros has called for health partners to assist in getting the appropriate supplies to Ukraine safely, including a 20% to 25% increase of medical oxygen in response to the current crisis.

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Last week, Tedros said he was “deeply concerned” about the health of Ukrainians in the wake of the invasion, particularly those with COVID-19, cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis and mental health issues. He called on all parties to ensure that health facilities, suppliers, workers and patients are not targeted in the violence.

He authorized the release of $3.5 million from the WHO’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies to assist with the delivery of necessary medical supplies.

Public health experts have said they’re particularly concerned about the ability of infectious diseases to spread among the population as Ukrainians flee or shelter together, according to NBC News.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jašarević said Ukraine has also been dealing with a polio outbreak since October.

“Confirmation of the second paralytic case in January 2022 is evidence that the virus is still circulating in the country,” he said. “The current crisis in Ukraine increases the risk of national and international spread of the virus.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday after months of growing tension between the former Soviet republics. Russian President Vladimir Putin has falsely said Ukraine was stolen from Russia after former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin mistakenly recognized a distinct Ukraine.

Putin has taken issue with Ukraine’s desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which would expand the alliance’s territory and bring it closer to Russia’s border.

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Demonstrators hold signs and flags during a protest February 26 in Tel Aviv, Israel, in support of Ukraine after the Russian invasion and massive military operation. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo