Realistic threats of disease as Ukrainian conflict escalates

March 11, 2022

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), since the escalation of aggression towards Ukraine that started on February 24, 2022, and as of March 7, 2022, over 1.7 million people have fled to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Countries hosting displaced populations should ensure that those arriving from Ukraine due to the crisis have access to healthcare services in a similar manner as the local population. This will address continuity of care and prevention of complications due to medical preconditions and will aid early treatment of acute conditions. Additionally, it will help in the early detection of diseases that may cause outbreaks.

This should be an integral part of the overall provision of healthcare to those fleeing Ukraine, as should the diagnosis and treatment of chronic disease and mental and psychosocial health.

Many of the people currently fleeing Ukraine are expected to not be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In addition, uptake for childhood vaccinations is reportedly suboptimal in Ukraine.

Ensuring continuity of routine vaccinations and addressing gaps in prior vaccination histories is an essential element of public health support for displaced people. In this context, ensuring vaccination coverage against poliomyelitis, measles and COVID-19 should be a priority.

In addition, ECDC recommends that public health authorities in receiving countries increase awareness so their community healthcare providers can detect and report infectious diseases, including those previously mentioned. This should be an integral part of the overall provision of healthcare to the population fleeing the crisis while facilitating the public health response.

Receiving countries should consider enhancing surveillance for vaccine-preventable and other communicable diseases. Furthermore, it is important to consider establishing syndromic surveillance systems within reception centers and, if possible, in the community.

Healthcare providers should be aware that multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) are frequently connected to war wounds and require early diagnosis and treatment.

This operational document focuses on the infectious disease vulnerabilities of those fleeing Ukraine and the associated requirements for infection prevention and control. However, infectious diseases are just some of the risks to the health and well-being of the displaced people and the measures described in ECDC’s document should be part of a generalized health approach in support of those who have been displaced.

In addressing the challenges posed by those arriving from Ukraine, ECDC is engaged in bilateral and multilateral dialogues with concerned countries as well as EU and international bodies to regularly assess needs, plan and implement specific ECDC support.

ECDC Release