“As hospitals in the east become overwhelmed with increasing numbers of war trauma patients, their supplies are dwindling,” says Anja Wolz, MSF Emergency Coordinator in Ukraine. “And we don’t know how long it will be before Kyiv may be cut off.”
“Destruction, aerial bombing, heavy artillery fire, tank battles, encircled towns, the beginnings of urban warfare, people sheltering in bunkers and basements running out of food, water and electricity – this is what is happening; and it is getting worse,” continues Wolz. “The humanitarian medical response needs to be at scale and at speed.”
On Saturday 05 March, MSF’s first three trucks of emergency medical supplies – 120m3 – were delivered in Ukraine. A third of it, mostly surgical and trauma material and drugs, was immediately sent on to Kyiv by train. It has been received by the Ministry of Health in Kyiv to be distributed to hospitals treating war wounded in the capital city and to hospitals in war zones further east.
More emergency medical supplies have arrived at MSF’s warehouse in Ukraine in the past days, and further shipments will follow in the days and weeks to come.
MSF’s main focus to date has been on surgical, trauma, ER (Emergency Room) and ICU (Intensive Care Unit) equipment and drugs. But a broader picture of other key medical items is starting to emerge: insulin for diabetes patients, and medicines for patients with other chronic diseases such as asthma, hypertension or HIV. Some of these will need to be transported with the added complexity of a cold chain.
Getting supplies to where they are needed in Ukraine will be a challenge. The trains are still mostly running, and this is a good option because of the volume they can take, but MSF teams are looking at multiple ways of moving medical supplies around the country safely. “We fear that it will get harder, perhaps rapidly so, to move medical supplies and medical staff to where they are needed, hence the real urgency to move fast on this now,” says Wolz.
MSF teams have also begun offering training to hospitals in Lviv and Odessa to support them to manage large numbers of wounded arriving at the same time and to deal with war wounds.
Beyond medical supplies, there is also a need to protect people who have fled their homes from the bitterly cold temperatures - as low as minus seven degrees Celsius. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have gathered in Lviv or are making their way onwards to the Hungarian, Polish or Slovakian borders. Temperatures this cold can kill. MSF is dispatching 160m3 of materials to help – more than 2,000 sleeping bags, more than 3,500 thermal fleece blankets, thousands of sets of thermal underwear, fleece pullovers, hats, rain jackets and other clothes, and more than 500 tents, as well as hygiene items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and towels. These will be passed on to local civil society organisations who will distribute them to people who have fled to Lviv or are queuing at Ukraine’s borders.
MSF’s first surgical team has arrived in Lviv. “Decisions to move closer to areas of active fighting to do hands-on medical work cannot be taken lightly,” says Wolz. “We are weighing up several locations and options and will be taking decisions over the coming days.”