Health must remain a core pillar of the humanitarian response during the Ukraine crisis, with health systems and facilities preserved, functional, safe, and accessible to those who require basic medical services, and health workers protected so that they can continue to save lives. This must include the safe and reliable delivery of critical medical supplies, such as life-saving medicinal oxygen supplies, which are critical for patients with a variety of conditions, including COVID-19 (which currently has 1,700 patients in hospital) and other critical illnesses (from neonates to the elderly) resulting from complications of pregnancy, childbirth, chronic conditions, sepsis, and injuries and trauma.
In Ukraine, the oxygen supply situation is rapidly deteriorating. Trucks are unable to transfer oxygen supplies from facilities to hospitals across Ukraine, including in Kyiv, the capital. The bulk of hospitals’ oxygen reserves may be depleted within the next 24 hours. Some of the supplies have already run out. Thousands of lives are at risk as a result of this. Furthermore, medical oxygen generator makers are experiencing shortages of zeolite, a critical, mostly imported chemical component required to produce safe medical oxygen in various places. Safe zeolite deliveries from outside Ukraine are also required for these plants.
Patients are also at risk because key hospital services are being threatened by power outages, and ambulances transporting patients are at risk of being caught in the crossfire. Ukraine has achieved tremendous progress in upgrading its health systems in recent years, thanks to WHO’s help, as part of an ambitious health reform agenda. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this included a rapid expansion of oxygen therapy capacity for critically ill patients. During the epidemic, WHO inspected over 600 health institutions across the country, and nearly half were actively assisted with supplies, technical know-how, and infrastructure improvements, allowing health authorities to save tens of thousands of lives.
During the current crisis, this progress is at risk of being derailed. WHO is assisting health officials in determining the country’s immediate oxygen supply surge requirements, assuming a 20% to 25% rise over previous requirements prior to the crisis’s escalation last week. Despite the difficulties presented by the current situation, WHO is trying to guarantee that oxygen-related medical devices and trauma treatment supplies are available. To do this, WHO is actively searching for ways to boost supplies, which might include importing oxygen (liquid and cylinders) from regional networks. These goods would require secure transportation, which might include passing through Poland on a logistics corridor. It is critical that life-saving medical supplies, such as oxygen, reach individuals who require them.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge have called for crucial medical supplies to reach those in need in a safe manner, and are working with partners to ensure that shipments passing through Poland are safe. For more on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, subscribe to our daily newsletter.