WHO rushes supplies to Ukraine, readies to tackle disease in flood areas

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The World Health Organization has rushed emergency supplies to flood-hit parts of Ukraine and are preparing to respond to an array of health risks including trauma, drowning and waterborne diseases like cholera, officials said on Thursday.

Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for the bursting of the Soviet-era Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, which sent waters cascading across the war zone of southern Ukraine in the early hours of Tuesday, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.

“The impact of the region’s water supply sanitation systems and public health services cannot be underestimated,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.

“The WHO has rushed in to support the authorities and health care workers in preventive measures against waterborne diseases and to improve disease surveillance.”

Asked specifically about cholera, WHO technical officer Teresa Zakaria said that the risk of an outbreak was present since the pathogen exists in the environment. She said that the WHO was working with Ukraine’s health ministry to put mechanisms in place to ensure that vaccines can be imported if needed.

“We are trying to address quite a wide range of health risks actually associated with the floods, starting from trauma to drowning, to waterborne diseases but also all the way to the potential implications of disruption to chronic treatment,” she added.

The huge Kakhovka Dam on the Dnipro River separates Russian and Ukrainian forces and people have been affected on both sides of its banks. WHO’s Emergencies Director Mike Ryan said the WHO has offered assistance to Russian-controlled areas but that its operational presence was “primarily” on the Ukrainian side.

He said Russian authorities had given them assurances that people living in areas it occupies were being “well monitored, well cared for, well fed (and) well supported.”

“We will be delighted to be able to access those areas and be able to monitor health as we would in most situations wish to do,” he said, adding it would be for the Ukrainian and Russian authorities to agree how that could be achieved.

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