Ukraine is right now a recipe for another health crisis

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War is not only a geostrategic, economic and social issue; it also has profoundly sanitary ramifications. We know it well. In 2014, when the conflict began around Crimea and parts of the Ukrainian Donbass, measles took advantage of the cracks in the system (and the deep economic crisis that was triggered) to go from 4,782 cases to 35,120 in a single year. Immunization plummeted from 98% in 2006 to 42% in 2016. And at that time, we were not in the middle of a pandemic.


Another health crisis? For this reason, to the military, political and humanitarian crisis we must add a health crisis of the first magnitude. Thousands of people are leaving Ukraine seeking asylum and refuge in the European Union; Ukraine’s epidemiological controls, its vaccination plans and its sanitary measures have vanished in a matter of days. Very hard times of refugees, overcrowding and unhealthiness are coming. Is it possible that the war will “resurrect” the pandemic in Europe now that we are already talking about lifting health restrictions?

Russia has invaded Ukraine on the ground.  The digital invasion had started many days ago

An x-ray of the pandemic in Ukraine. It is not an unfounded fear. In recent weeks, Ukraine has experienced the worst wave of infections of COVID since the start of the pandemic. On February 10, 37,000 cases were exceeded and, although since then it has not stopped going down, it is not clear if it is that the wave is in remission or a notification problem by the health authorities. The deaths are still far from the worst moments (which in the Ukrainian case was in November 2021), but the possible collapse of the health system makes one fear the worst.

The intimate relationship between war and infectious diseases. After two years of drawing parallels between the Spanish Flu of 1918 and the COVID pandemic, it is logical that the start of the war action raises questions about the impact of the war on public health. The historical and epidemiological evidence tells us that, although in the case of relatively short civil conflicts that can limit transmission due to reduced travel and people-to-people contacts, longer ongoing conflicts have lingering negative effects (with the potential to become health problems of continental scope)

as explained Richard SelfmanWorld Bank health adviser, “whatever the duration or nature of the armed conflict in Ukraine, [este] it will negatively impact health systems, disrupt surveillance and response systems, and lead to an increase in known preventable infectious diseases; even more so with COVID and any future variant”. This last one is the key, in fact. That the epidemiological situation is going to get worse is something that is taken for granted and that this is going to stress all the health systems in Eastern Europe, too. The only good news is that as long as Omicron is the majority variant, we hope that the situation is under control.

New variants? New waves? But nothing assures us that Ómicron will continue there. A few days ago, Denmark announced a new sub-variant which represents 24% of the new cases and presented disturbing novelties compared to the Omicron that we already know. No reason to worry yet. We already know that the appearance of new variants is very common, but we have to be aware that it took Ómicron two weeks to turn the epidemiological situation around the world. The appearance of a new (dangerous) variant in the middle of a war can be a disaster. Like it shows the case of Hong KongHowever, even with high levels of vaccination, an uncontrolled wave is still a very real danger.

Be prepared for the perfect storm. With the collapse of the Ukrainian health system and the refugee problem that is already beginning to be experienced at the EU borders, the expected removal of health restrictions requires a strengthening of surveillance and response systems against the virus. We have to arm the epidemiological monitoring systems and be vigilant.

Image | Kacper Pempel/Reuters

War is not only a geostrategic, economic and social issue; it also has profoundly sanitary ramifications. We know it well.…

War is not only a geostrategic, economic and social issue; it also has profoundly sanitary ramifications. We know it well.…

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