(CNN) — The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday that it is concerned that the war in Ukraine could worsen the Covid-19 pandemic, and is trying to do more to limit the spread of infectious diseases.
Cases in the region are down from the previous week, but there is a significant risk of more severe cases and deaths due to low vaccination rates in Ukraine, as well as among the more than two million who have fled the country. to surrounding areas, regions also with low vaccination rates. Ukraine’s Covid-19 vaccination rate is around 34%, while neighboring Moldova’s is around 29%, according to Our World In Data.
There have been a total of 791,021 new Covid-19 cases and 8,012 new deaths in Ukraine and neighboring countries between March 3 and 9, according to a WHO situation report released on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, this virus will take advantage of opportunities to continue to spread,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical director on covid-19, said during a news briefing on Wednesday. “We as an organization recognize that countries are in very different situations; they face different challenges. There is a lot of movement and refugees associated with this crisis.”
Also on Wednesday, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said there will be an increase in Covid-19 in Ukraine, “without a doubt.” He attributed the projected increase to a lack of testing, vaccine disruption and a stressed, war-weary population with already low vaccination rates.
Ryan added that the world needs to avoid stereotypes about refugees and disease.
“Let’s be very careful with our rhetoric because this always comes up,” he said, “that somehow people fleeing the horrors of war are going to bring things with them. Europe has a lot of covid as it is, and has to deal with that, and the Ukrainian refugees are not going to change the tone on that.”
Sunday’s report said the WHO has purchased therapies for covid-19 and recommends vaccination campaigns and enhanced surveillance for this and other infectious diseases.
Hungary is providing Ukrainian refugees with free COVID-19 vaccinations, and the WHO has also offered laboratory support including COVID-19 tests.
The Romanian health ministry has dispatched medical teams to test and administer covid-19 vaccines to Ukrainians who have fled their country.
Covid-19 treatment is provided free of charge in Slovakia. Covid-19 vaccinations are also free in Moldova for Ukrainians, with its health ministry testing and monitoring for covid-19, among other diseases.
In a joint statement with Unicef and Unfpa, the WHO called for an end to attacks on Ukraine’s health systems. As of Sunday, there have been 31 verified attacks on health care facilities, with more suspected.
“Humanitarian partners and health workers must be able to safely maintain and strengthen the delivery of essential health services, including immunization against COVID-19 and polio, and the supply of vital medicines to civilians across Ukraine. as well as for refugees crossing into neighboring countries,” the WHO statement said. “Health services must be systematically available at border crossings, including rapid care and referral processes for children and pregnant women.”
CNN’s Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report