“Since 2014 [when Russian annexed Crimea, and the conflict in the east of the country began]3.4 million people in the Donbas region, southeastern Ukraine, need medical-related humanitarian assistance.
Also, when I started working here, the measles outbreak in this country was the second largest in the world, before our team had even managed to respond to it. And of course, we had to deal with COVID-19 since 2020, so I have worked closely with the government to develop a national COVID-19 Strategic Response and Preparedness Plan, while actively participating in the nationwide pandemic response.
Then, late last year, an outbreak of polio was detected, so we joined hands with the Ministry of Health and partners to immunize all children aged 6 months to 6 years.
Since 2016, Ukraine has been in the process of reforming and, even with all the medical emergencies going on, government reforms to the health system to move towards coverage The health of the entire population has not stopped. New institutions were created and new practices adopted. All in all, as a public health professional, working in Ukraine over the years has been a huge challenge but very rewarding.
Prepare for conflict
In Ukraine, we are always prepared for emergencies, but we started doing more work last October and November. This includes visits to eastern Ukraine, filling our warehouses with supplies and transfers to selected hospitals, and bringing in colleagues from the regional office and headquarters to evaluate our activities.
In December, we also established emergency medical teams, notifying authorities and epidemics WHO Guides and materials focusing on armed conflicts in Ukrainian.
Earlier this year, we also prepped trauma supplies – the materials needed to save lives and treat injuries – at our warehouses and hospitals, and Dr. Hans Kluge , WHO Regional Director, made a special visit to the country to discuss what needs to be done from a health perspective in light of the increasingly violent situation.
© UNICEF / Andriy Boyko
Facing the reality of war
At the end of February, when the military offensive started, it was a school holiday, so People are probably feeling more relaxed than usual, making the attack even more shocking.
We just signed an agreement with the national health authorities in January to take the health plan further, so we’re really looking forward to all the positive changes we can make. .
We are also expected to have a WHO and World Bank-supported national conference on hospital reform at the end of March and prepare to celebrate World Health Day on April 7 to achieve progress. department in primary health care. All of these initiatives have had to be put on hold.
The last few weeks have been about learning, reflecting and facing the situation, because although we have been preparing for wars for a longer and more intense time than in the last 4 or 5 months, None of us thought this would actually happen to such a degree.
Make a difference on the ground
I am very proud that, thanks to our experience and teamwork, we are one of the United Nations agencies that can deliver to Kyiv and other cities. Furthermore, in all my 19 years of experience with WHO, I have never felt the 3 levels of WHO – headquarters, Regional Offices and Country Offices – so close together, listening to each other. and prioritizing responses.
We’re finding solutions, and we’re really putting our best brains and people together to give feedback. That’s how we get medical supplies from Dubai to Poland, from Poland to Ukraine and from Ukraine to individual hospitals around the country. Our WHO Country Office is just a small team, but we can mobilize thousands of people across the organization to support Ukraine.
The medical and humanitarian situation in the country is changing daily. In less than a month, more than three million people have left the country and nearly two million are internally displaced. This has happened faster than any previous European crisis. Right now, there is no safe place in Ukraine, but we need to make sure that medical services are available.
© WHO / Kasia Strek
‘Things are getting worse every day’
Meanwhile, the military offensive continues, with some cities completely isolated – people are running out of food and water, and hospitals may be without electricity. Worse still, we have seen many attacks on healthcare workers and healthcare facilities as well as on patients.
This is happening every day and is unacceptable. So if you ask me how to describe it, Every day things get worse, which means it’s harder to respond to each day’s health.
Personally, I cope by working. Sleep is important too – luckily for me, the more stressed I am, the better I sleep! It’s difficult, especially since everything I own, my clothes, my apartment, is in Kyiv.
But most importantly, I have my health and energy to support Ukraine. Coping with all of this is hard and we all have stories to be told later.
Over the last week, we have gathered and regrouped to deal with the enormous health challenges facing the country today.
Three weeks ago, we dreamed that we could still do some of our development work, but the enormous scale of the humanitarian crisis must be recognized.
Right now, we need to focus on the humanitarian response, but also start thinking about the recovery phase, not knowing if this war will end in the near future, or if it will last for a long time.” .
This First Person Account is first published as an interview with Mr. Habicht on the WHO Europe website.