WHO calls to ensure health of both Ukrainian refugees and host population in Moldova

Prime Minister Mario Draghi signed the decree on Tuesday 29 March, under which temporary protection and assistance will be established for refugees coming from Ukraine. [DUMITRU DORU/EPA]

The urgent need to strengthen the national public health system for Ukrainian refugees and Moldovans has been stressed by Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, during a trip to the latter.

One month after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova has taken in over 330,000 refugees, and the situation in-country is particularly tense. While Poland has taken in the most refugees – over two million at the time of writing – Moldova has the highest ratio of Ukrainian refugees to its population.

″The objective of my mission is to discuss an agreement with the minister of health on how to strengthen the health system for people of Moldova themselves″, Kluge said during a joint presser with Moldovan Health Minister Ala Nemerenco in Moldova Tuesday (22 March).

However, according to Kluge, Moldovans suffered from a lack of access to health care before the conflict began due to a weak national public health system. He stressed the need to find “a good balance between ensuring the health of the refugees and health of the host population.″

″The resources of the country are limited, and we wouldn’t want this to affect or become a burden for the citizens of Moldova. That is why we address all of our partners to ask for support in this situation″, Nemerenco confirmed.

She pointed out that EU countries are committed to caring for some patients with cancers or with dialyse treatments. “But other patients coming from Ukraine don’t want to go anywhere, they like it here in Moldova, and they prefer to stay here feeling more comfortable also because of the language″, Nemerenco said, adding that ″unfortunately our health assistance is under pressure.”

To drive quality care for refugees and the Moldovan population, Kluge and Nemerenco agreed to ″step up efforts to increase quality of care in Moldova, affordability to medicines and strong primary health care, including in the rural areas.″

EU to prioritise evacuation of Ukrainian children in urgent need of care

EU health ministers agreed on Tuesday (15 March) to first evacuate from Ukraine children in urgent need of care, following talks of a coordinated EU approach to the health crisis in the country.

″Humanitarian crisis without precedent″

The other objective of Kluge’s mission to Moldova was to bring an immediate solution to the current humanitarian and sanitarian crisis. 

The ″big wave of refugees coming to the Republic of Moldova″ provoked a ″humanitarian crisis without precedent″, Nemerenco said during the presser calling for help from other EU countries and WHO.

″I am personally stressing that Moldova needs urgent assistance in tackling this emergency that has added to the burden already cost by more than two years of COVID-19 pandemic″, said Kluge.

To help Ukrainians, the Ministry of Health decided to create health teams and provide primary health assistance to all refugees coming to the country, including emergency health assistance and different surgeries or other interventions.

According to Nemerenco, 1,300 refugee patients have required health assistance in the Republic of Moldova so far, of which 400 have been hospitalised in the country’s health facilities, 90 of them receiving cancer treatments and 100 dialysis.

WHO has supported the Moldovan government in coordinating the health system mobilising $2 million (€1.82 million) of life-saving supplies. “But we will not stop here and continue our efforts″, Kluge said.

″Our priority is to help and ensure Moldova and all countries involved in the humanitarian response have the infrastructures and expertise in place to face this challenge,” he continued.

Kluge also congratulated health professionals and frontlines workers in Moldova, qualifying them as ″heroic″ and doing ″all they can on so many fronts″. 

However, Kluge warned that the main threat was the complex picture of health needs with a need for psychosocial support, for non-communicable diseases whose treatments have been interrupted, and for communicable diseases such as COVID-19.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

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