UN agencies call for halting attacks on health care in war-hit Ukraine

United Nations, March 14, 2022: Three United Nations agencies Sunday called for an immediate halt to all attacks on healthcare in Ukraine, pointing out that since the Feb. 24 Russian military offensive, 31 strikes had been documented in which several civilians were killed and wounded as well as facilities and equipment destroyed.

“Today, we call for an immediate cessation of all attacks on healthcare in Ukraine,” the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Found (UNFPA) declared in a joint statement.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus (WHO), Ms. Catherine Russell (UNICEF) and Dr. Natalia Kanem (UNFPA) said that to attack the most vulnerable – babies, children, pregnant women, and those suffering from illness and disease, as well as health workers risking their safety to save lives – is “an act of unconscionable cruelty”.

The three agencies’ leaders also called for an ‘immediate ceasefire’ with unhindered access to humanitarian assistance.

“A peaceful resolution to end the war in Ukraine is possible”, they urged.

“In Ukraine, since the start of the war, 31 attacks on health care have been documented via the WHO’s Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care,” the statement said, adding: “These attacks have led to at least 12 deaths and 34 injuries and affected access to and availability of essential health services.”

The statement said that in 24 incidents, health care facilities were damaged or destroyed, while in five cases, ambulances were damaged or destroyed.

It said that to attack the most vulnerable – babies, children, pregnant women, and those already suffering from illness and disease, and health workers risking their own lives to save lives – “is an act of unconscionable cruelty.”

WHO said it is verifying further reports of attacks despite the calls for health care protection.

“Attacks on health care and health workers directly impact people’s ability to access essential health services – especially women, children, and other vulnerable groups,” said the statement.

The UN agencies said that more than 4,300 births have occurred in Ukraine since the start of the war, and 80,000 Ukrainian women are expected to give birth in the next three months.

Oxygen and medical supplies, including the management of pregnancy complications, are running dangerously low, the UN agencies warned.

“The health care system in Ukraine is clearly under significant strain, and its collapse would be a catastrophe. Every effort must be made to prevent this from happening,” they said.

“It is critical that humanitarian actors have safe and unimpeded access to reach ALL civilians in need wherever they may be,” the UN agencies added.

“UNICEF, UNFPA and WHO are working with partners to scale up life-saving services and support to meet urgent health needs. We must be able to safely deliver emergency medical supplies – including those required for obstetric and neonatal care – to health centres, temporary facilities and underground shelters”, the agencies said.

The civilian toll of the war in Ukraine keeps rising. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has documented 1,663 civilian casualties in the country: 596 killed and 1,067 injured (From 24 February to 12 March).

Most of the civilian casualties were caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and airstrikes.

The UN agencies believe that the actual figures are considerably higher, especially in Government-controlled territory and especially in recent days, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration.

“This concerns, for example, Izium (Kharkiv region), and Mariupol and Volnovakha (Donetsk region) where there are allegations of hundreds of civilian casualties. These figures are being further corroborated and are not included in the above statistics”, OHCHR explains.

In their latest report, the Office noted the report of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, 85 children had been killed and more than 100 injured.

They also confirmed receiving the report of the Head of the Investigative Department of the National Police of Kharkiv Region, according to which as on March 12, 205 civilians had been killed in the region.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the human and socioeconomic costs of the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine continue to mount.

Larger scale evacuations continue to be carried out in parts of eastern and northern Ukraine, although they have been repeatedly delayed due to active hostilities in some of the hardest-hit areas, like Mariupol (Donetska oblast, east).

At the same time, the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance continues to be scaled-up, reaching over 600,000 conflict-affected people whose needs continue to grow by the hour.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, condemned the killing of US journalist Brent Renaud in Ukraine on Sunday 13 March. He was shot while reporting in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin.

“Journalists have a critical role in providing information during a conflict, and should never be targeted. I call on the respect of international humanitarian standards, to ensure that journalists and media workers are protected”, Ms. Azoulay said in statement.

Renaud had worked for a number of American outlets, including HBO, NBC and The New York Times, and had reported from multiple conflict zones. His reporting partner was also shot in the same incident but survived.

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