Voucher scheme boosts hospital supplies in eastern Ukraine
UNICEF and partners are helping medical facilities and families to access critical supplies and hygiene products
At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, supplies of personal protective equipment and hygiene products were running low at conflict-weary hospitals in eastern Ukraine.
"Buy a mask or a disinfectant? A healthcare professional should never face a choice like this,” says Svitlana Shabalina, head of Bakhmut Primary Care Centre in the Donetsk region.
Now, thanks to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners, hospitals are much better prepared for the second wave.
Today, at the entrance to the Primary Care Centre, a nurse wearing a visor measures the temperature of each visitor and helps them to use the hand sanitiser. Disinfectant is also available in every doctor’s office.
The centre is one of 500 medical, social and educational facilities in eastern Ukraine to have been provided with hygiene supplies thanks to an electronic voucher issued by UNICEF and Triangle Generation Humanitaire (TGH), with the help of funds from USAID/OFDA.
The voucher programme, implemented from July 2020 to January 2021, also aims to improve access to hygiene supplies for 5,500 families.
"Everyone is now at risk"
Before the improvements at Bakhmut Primary Care Centre, mother-of-two Anna was one of many locals who was afraid to visit medical facilities.
“It was difficult to teach children to use hand sanitiser,” she says. “They did not like the smell of it, did not like that it ‘pinches’ the skin. But now they understand that this is a necessity. And it’s good that such products are provided on the spot and you do not have to carry them with you."
Now, she is happy to visit the centre’s vaccination clinic with her 10-year-old son Danylo and four-year-old daughter Myroslava. The building is separated into sections.
“Children who come for vaccinations do not come into contact with children who have to take a test for coronavirus,” explains one of the doctors.
As of November 2020, 15 children had tested positive for coronavirus at the centre.
“Luckily, we did not have any serious cases among children,” says Svitlana. "But we still take it seriously, because children are in contact with the elderly, family members and doctors. We understand that everyone is now at risk.”
According to UNICEF, one in fifteen people infected with COVID-19 in Ukraine is a child, adolescent or young person under the age of 20. As of December 2020, this age group accounted for around 6 per cent of all reported cases.
Getting used to the new normal
Access to sanitation and hygiene products is crucial. This is especially important in eastern Ukraine, where the seven-year armed conflict has had a devastating impact on families. Masks, hand sanitiser and soap are an added expense in an already tough economy.
“This year, realizing the risk, we even gave up holidays,” says Anna. “But the children are not offended, they are used to the new normal. Now going outside only includes school, kindergarten, walks with a dog and scheduled visits to the hospital.”
Hygiene supplies at Bakhmut Children’s Outpatient Clinic make life a little bit easier.
“Thanks to the voucher, we covered our needs for paper towels, hand sanitizer, liquid soap and disinfectant for three months,” says Svitlana. “And it has been helpful not only for doctors, but also for our patients, the children.”
Recently, Svitlana has seen attitudes to the pandemic in eastern Ukraine change.
“People no longer say that the coronavirus does not exist,” she says. “Responsible attitudes and awareness have become more common.”
Thanks to the voucher project, a total of 5,436 vulnerable families in 85 areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions received vouchers for hygiene products through 42 partner stores located in all districts along the contact line. In addition, 187 education facilities and 120 social institutions, as well as 181 healthcare facilities received vouchers to meet their needs for hygiene supplies.
“We are happy to see that this initiative brings so much help and support for families in vulnerable communities,” says Viktoriia Lupan, UNICEF Ukraine WASH Officer. “Amazing, how innovations can change the lives of thousands at a time for the better!”