As Russia continues attacks in Ukraine, global health leaders warn that “certainly there’ll be a rise in Covid-19.”
Some activists in the region already have seen a spread of the disease.
“Some of our volunteers got infected with Covid while helping manage refugees at the border or refugee centers. And because in both Moldova and Ukraine the vax rate is so low, the pandemic is still on,” Constanta Dohotaru, an activist involved in the refugee crisis in Moldova and working closely with the Moldovan government, told CNN.
The Covid-19 vaccination rate in Moldova is around 29% and in Ukraine it is about 34%, according to Our World In Data.
In a news briefing Wednesday, officials at the World Health Organization also said that as the pandemic continues, Russia’s invasion will impact the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
“Unfortunately, this virus will take opportunities to continue to spread. We, as an organization, recognize that countries are in very different situations, they’re facing different challenges. There’s a lot of movement and refugees associated with this crisis,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said Wednesday.
Van Kerkhove added that WHO will work with countries receiving refugees to ensure that Covid-19 testing and vaccinations continue. It is estimated that more than 2 million people have fled war-torn Ukraine, with most going to Poland.
In a Twitter post Thursday, WHO described the situation as “the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe for more than 75 years” and noted that it “is working closely with health authorities on meeting refugee needs,” and supporting Ukraine’s health system.
“Certainly, there’ll be a rise in Covid-19 within the population within Ukraine, without a doubt, because — not testing, without access to treatment, with vaccinations stopped and there’s already low vaccination. I think about 34% or 35% vaccination rate before the conflict,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said in Wednesday’s briefing.
“So, there are many people who still remain vulnerable to infection,” Ryan said, but he added that the world should be careful not to perpetuate harmful prejudices and stereotypes around refugees and Covid-19.
“Let us be very careful with our rhetoric because this always arises, that in some way people fleeing the horrors of war are going to bring stuff with them,” Ryan said in part. “Europe has plenty Covid as it stands, and it has got to deal with that — and Ukrainian refugees are not going to change the dial on that.”