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Medical Aid To Ukraine Dwindling With News Fatigue: US Healthcare And Medical Providers – We Must Do More

Health aid from the private US healthcare community to Ukraine is stalling. To re-engage and do more we should take a bottom-up and people-centric approach to aid and focus on long term needs.

When I was in Ukraine, just after the war with Russia broke, to meet the leadership and staff of hospitals who were dealing with the extra burden of refugees and war, I thought I was “prepared”. I knew I was about to experience hardship unimaginable to most Americans; a country in flux, folks that have lost their homes, the daily horror of air strikes. But one thing I learned while touring hospitals caught me off guard, and was one I had not thought of — a sharp spike in premature births; the immense mental stress imposed on pregnant women was just too much to handle. Lack of preparedness and shortage in necessary life support equipment made nurturing these babies into a safe developmental stage a devastating challenge.

In hindsight, this sad reality made sense. It’s almost obvious that the toll of war is too much to bear for almost all humans, not the least of whom, pregnant women. A study published in The American Journal of the Medical Sciences that examined the correlation between hurricane Katrina and post-traumatic stress disorder and birth outcomes concluded that “the frequency of preterm birth was higher in women with hurricane exposure.” But did I think ahead of my arrival in Ukraine that there is most likely a shortage in incubators? Not really.

Concentrated on the hurdles to get to hospitals in a war zone I was tunnel-visioned to focus only on the path of least resistance to make the mission happen. And because news reporting at the time focused on Russian air strikes, and the resulting huge refugee wave of mostly women and children fleeing the war, combined with another surge in Covid-19 cases, the immediate tendency was to focus on what we know how to solve — basic medical supplies, food and shelter, and money to fund these — rather than seeing an important, and potentially even more burning need — saving babies’ lives.

As most Americans, you are probably experiencing news fatigue when it comes to the 24-month long war Russia has inflicted on Ukraine. We also have our own challenges, don’t we? But the humanitarian and public health crisis that is wreaking havoc across Ukraine isn’t following the American news-cycle. There’s still a serious shortage in medical supplies for premature babies in Ukraine as the stressors related to the prolonged war on women has become endemic. In order to re-engage, and feel the humanitarian need, we should think about the people. The children and women who are living through this nightmare reality of constant fear and duress and how this affects them, their mental health and eventually their physical health too.

And when I say we, I mean healthcare and medical industry professionals.

But first, praise where praise is warranted.

The private US healthcare sector has been instrumental in its support

The immense donations of 79 private medical and healthcare companies (and counting) to the Direct Relief Medicine and Medical Supplies Ukraine Response fund has exceeded $1 billion. The American Hospital Association (AHA) is doing an exceptional job supporting hospitals and healthcare workers with aid and coordination across Ukraine. Praise must also be given to the work Stanford University is doing with TeleHelp Ukraine, the private US providers partnering with Health Tech Without Borders, and the solo donative efforts of Abbott, Bayer, and Trifecta Nutrition (among so many others).

Countless hours, and hundreds of millions of dollars, have been committed to engage and support Ukrainian health organizations, hospitals, and refugee camps on the ground navigating a humanitarian crisis. It’s been phenomenal to see so many US healthcare players join hands in a true altruistic force.

However, our attention on the health situation in Ukraine is now waning due to newscycle fatigue (which pains me to type.) No blame is allocated. It is, sadly, the “natural” course of events that we’ve seen one too many times in previous international crises. With that said, it is our responsibility now to shake off the fatigue and remind ourselves, once again, that our humanitarian help is still needed, and that we should continue to help, because we can.

Why our help is still needed, desperately

Unfortunately, the public health situation in Ukraine remains largely unexposed in the media. When I refer to public health in Ukraine, I am not writing about the mounting military personnel casualties and wounded (estimated to exceed a deeply saddening 500,000 in total across both the Russian and the Ukraine.)

What I am actually referring to are:

  • The increased risk and occurrence of infectious diseases spreading out throughout  the Ukrainian population
  •  The limited availability of vital medications for civilians harmed in attacks, and the replacement of medical supplies frequently destroyed or not-delivered because of disrupted supply-chains
  •  Limited sanitation products available to isolated populations stuck in war-zones
  •  Insufficient infant care for mothers and babies who are displaced from regions where fighting is still raging
  •  The poor mental health and trauma support across a country facing its most severe  nationwide mental health crisis in recent history

Of course, this is all exacerbated by large civilian population movements and a constantly impaired healthcare system: 1014 documented assaults on health care facilities; childhood vaccination coverage has dropped to an estimated 60%, increasing the risk of spread of preventable diseases like polio, measles, and diphtheria; basic lack of water and electricity affects neonatal infant care.

The UN estimates the most significant impact on health in Ukraine is on mental health. Although it’s hard to quantify, currently the delivery of mental healthcare in Ukraine is sporadic, dispersed, and underfunded. Ukraine already had one of the highest mental health burdens globally.

The US healthcare community cannot ignore the mental health crisis in Ukraine. Just like in the case of premature births, the real consequences are, in large parts, hidden from us.

Just like in many other cases,the first thing we should do is simply, listen.

Here’s how to help

Outside of financial donations and working with non-profit US healthaid coordinators such as International Medical Corps, Convoy of Hope, Project Hope, or Relief Web, as a community we can alternatively reach out directly to Ukrainian health facilities / institutions / NGOs that have the best knowledge of what is needed in terms of products and services.

Any support that your organization can provide is crucially needed: equipment and aid for infant care, funding or know-how for mental health for children and adults alike, medications, vaccines, first aid supplies — even hospital food.

Whether you choose to engage directly with Ukrainian public health entities or with US health aid coordinators, devote yourself to listening first. The more you regularly communicate with providers “on the ground” or with organizations that have a direct line of communication with civil groups or the government, the better you’ll understand healthcare needs.

The goods they are short on can often vary with ever changing circumstances, attacks, and populations in flux. In the city of Dnipro, for example, they may face a sudden need for baby incubators; in Zaporizhzhya it may be equipment for blood donations; in Sumy Oblast they actually need support for rehabilitation centers – the needs vary widely. Ukraine remains on the forefront of protecting one of the most important values of our society – freedom, and therefore we should continue to listen, do our best to keep our finger on the pulse, our hearts open, and our hand reached out to offer as much help as we can.

Photo: kieferpix, Getty Images

Ron Gutman is an inventor, a serial healthcare and technology entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and a Stanford University adjunct professor. Ron has built and invested in companies that have served hundreds of millions of people worldwide and saved tens of thousands of lives, and holds a series of patents pending in healthcare technology and artificial intelligence. Ron currently leads Intrivo, a global health technology company known for its award-winning On/Go test-to-treat solutions and On/Go ForGood, a charitable foundation that supports those in most need, particularly groups who may not have sufficient access to healthcare services or well-being support, and children.

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