I have been watching with increasing sadness and alarm as health care facilities come under fire during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with devastating impacts on patients, civilians, and frontline workers. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization confirmed at least 31 such attacks, including the shelling of a children’s and maternity hospital. Many facilities are facing catastrophic supply shortages even as they are overwhelmed by the influx of wounded civilians. Meanwhile, Poland and other nearby nations are struggling to provide health care and social services to a historic wave of refugees. The situation is dire.
Over the past week, I have been reflecting on how we, as the NAM, can offer our support to the health care community in Ukraine as well as those caring for Ukrainian refugees. Alongside the NAS and NAE presidents, I issued a statement condemning the Russian invasion and underscoring concern and support for our scientific and medical colleagues in Ukraine. We also strongly endorsed the National Academies’ Committee on Human Rights (CHR) statement calling for an end to attacks on health care workers. These statements are part of an outpouring of international solidarity that, while important, is not enough.
On Wednesday, March 30, the NAM, the CHR, and the American Public Health Association will host a webinar on “Violent Conflict: The Challenges of Protecting Public Health & Health Care” to address this important issue. Speakers will include Chris Beyrer, Director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins University; and Barry Levy, author of From Horror to Hope: Recognizing and Preventing the Health Impacts of War. Please register here and encourage your colleagues to attend as well.
Importantly, the war in Ukraine will have negative effects on health that stretch far beyond its borders. The disruption of the Ukrainian health system will harm the control of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and COVID-19, as well as essential care for chronic illnesses. Ukrainian health care workers who flee the country may never return, as has been the pattern in previous conflicts. Millions of refugees, mostly women and children, will require special care, including for mental health – a critical need that will endure in the region long after the violence subsides. The crisis in Ukraine will not be over anytime soon, and the NAM stands ready to offer support as long as it is needed.
I am reaching out to Ukrainian health care workers and organizations, neighboring medical academies, societies, networks, and governmental aid organizations to learn how we might support their ongoing efforts. In addition, I urge my U.S. colleagues to maintain supportive contact with Ukrainian friends and colleagues, as well as to share any information with me that could inform the NAM’s response.
We at the NAM stand clearly in solidarity with the health care community in Ukraine and the surrounding areas and pray for a swift end to the senseless violence that has put so many at risk.
—Victor J. Dzau, MD, President, National Academy of Medicine
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