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WHO calls for humanitarian corridor to be opened to Ukraine

The World Health Organization called on Wednesday for a humanitarian corridor to be opened to Ukraine, saying that its prepositioned supplies in the capital Kyiv are inaccessible.

“There is an urgent need to establish a corridor to ensure humanitarian workers and supplies have safe and continuous access to reach people in need,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.

A week after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Kyiv is under heavy bombardment, desperate locals are struggling to flee on the few trains that are still running, as Russian armored columns are approaching from the north. There is extensive fighting in the east and south of the country and cities including Kharkiv are under heavy bombardment.

The WHO says it can’t get to the medical supplies it had earlier placed in the capital. A first shipment of 36 tons of supplies will arrive in Poland on Thursday.

At least three major oxygen plants in Ukraine have now closed, Tedros said, and the WHO is looking for ways to access medical oxygen from neighboring countries and deliver it safely. 

The shortage of oxygen is particularly difficult for hospitals that are isolated due to fighting, the WHO’s head of office for Ukraine Jarno Habicht said. “Under the current situation it is difficult to find drivers who are willing to drive from some of the factories which still have reserves,” said Habicht.

There are approximately 2,000 people in Ukraine who need supplemental oxygen to survive, said Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program. “You need it when you need it,” said Ryan. “You can’t be put on a waiting list for oxygen; you can’t stand in a queue for oxygen.”

There may also be imminent shortages of cancer medicines and insulin which could result in grave situations for people with some types of diabetes, warned Adelheid Marschang, the WHO’s senior emergency officer for its health emergencies program. The WHO is looking to set up a mechanism to track medicine shortages and needs.

“People’s bodies and people’s bones are being broken, people’s lives are being lost and there isn’t a health service available to deliver lifesaving care and we can’t supply that health service at the moment,” said Ryan.

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