GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization’s European chief said on Tuesday that at least 3,000 people had died in Ukraine because they had been unable to access treatments for chronic diseases.
So far, the global health agency has documented some 200 attacks in Ukraine on healthcare facilities, and few hospitals are currently functioning, the official, Hans Kluge, told a regional meeting attended by 53 member states as well as senior colleagues from WHO.
“40% of households have at least one member in need of chronic treatment that they can no longer find, resulting in an estimated at least 3,000 premature avoidable deaths,” he said in a speech, mentioning diseases such as HIV/AIDS and cancer.
WHO officials said last week they were gathering evidence for possible war crimes investigation into attacks it says it has documented by Russia. Russia has denied previous accusations by Ukraine and Western nations of possible war crimes and has also denied targeting civilians in the war.
At the meeting, held in Copenhagen and attended by many virtually, WHO members will consider measures against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, including possible closure of a major regional office in Moscow.
Russia is a member and voiced opposition to the resolution. “We believe that WHO, in addressing the issue of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, should be strictly guided by the provisions of its Constitution, stick to the scope of its mandate, and not politicize the cooperation in the field of health care,” Russian envoy Andrey Plutnitsky said.
Some have criticised the WHO measures, saying they do not go far enough. “Shutting the Russian European hub seems meek and mild. Putin won’t care,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C., who closely follows the WHO.
Diplomats told Reuters they had dropped efforts to suspend Russia from the WHO executive board due to legal technicalities, although members could later this month seek to freeze Russia’s voting rights.
Moscow calls its actions since Feb. 24 a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of what it calls anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and the West say Russia launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
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