Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has COVID-19 impacts

While Ukraine’s COVID-19 cases appear to have gone down in recent days, the country is (obviously) not prioritizing COVID-19 reporting during an invasion. Chart via Our World in Data.

When Russian troops began attacking Ukraine, the country was just recovering from its worst COVID-19 surge of the pandemic. To state the terrifying obvious: war makes it much harder to control a pandemic.

Here are a few reports on this situation from the past week:

  • The New York Times describes Ukraine’s ability to control COVID-19 as “another casualty of Russia’s invasion.” Reporter Adeel Hassan discusses the challenges of controlling disease spread when people are crowding together in shelters, fleeing to refugee camps, and often unable to access masks or other supplies. The crisis in Ukraine will also impact COVID-19 in nearby countries tasked with caring for refugees, Hassan writes.
  • In addition to COVID-19, Ukraine “has been trying to control a polio outbreak since October,” reports Dana Varinsky at NBC News. About 13% of Ukrainian children under age six had not received their polio shots as of 2020, and are vulnerable to a re-emergence of this disease. Global health experts are highly concerned about the potential impacts of both COVID-19 and polio on Ukraine and neighboring countries.
  • While data on Ukraine’s cases show a decrease in recent weeks, these numbers are pretty unreliable. Our World in Data reports a steep decline from 860 new cases per million on February 12 to zero new cases in the last couple of days. This is unsurprising for a country with pressing issues to deal with than data reporting. “These numbers are going to have to be taken with some sort of salt, understanding it may be underreported, or in many ways not reported at all,” public health expert Sonny Patel told NBC.
  • Meanwhile in the U.S., hospitals are considering a potential increase in Russian cyber threats, POLITICO reports. Earlier in March, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a warning to hospitals and other healthcare organizations saying they should prepare for Russian cyberattacks. “No “specific or credible” threats have been made yet, but health care organizations are concerned, given Russia’s cyber warfare history,” according to reporter Ben Leonard. (The full story is paywalled, but a summary is available in POLITICO’s newsletter.)

Over the past year, we’ve seen more and more examples of COVID-19 surges intersecting with other disasters. This includes violence in Palestine last summer, as well as hurricanes, wildfires, and the Texas winter storm here in the U.S. To me, these horrible convergences make it clear that healthcare systems in the U.S. and around the world need a lot more investment to be resilient in these times of crisis.

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