Ukraine's health system ‘devastated’ by Russia’s invasion | HIMSS 2023

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., described the damage to the country’s health system and asked leaders for their support.

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, addressed the HIMSS Conference via video Thursday. (Photo: Ron Southwick)

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, addressed the HIMSS Conference via video Thursday. (Photo: Ron Southwick)

Chicago - Ukraine’s health system has sustained severe damage in the war with Russia, Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, told an audience of healthcare leaders at the HIMSS Conference.

Markarova delivered a message via video before an audience of thousands of healthcare professionals Thursday. Hal Wolf, president and CEO of the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society, commonly called HIMSS, said Markarova was unable to attend in person but wanted to address the audience.

“The war has devastated the Ukrainian medical system,” Markarova said.

More than 500 medical facilities have been destroyed or damaged since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, she said. Nearly one in 10 of Ukraine’s hospitals has been directly hit by Russia’s weaponry, with the heaviest destruction being in the country’s eastern and southern regions of the country.

The impact of Russia’s attacks “have been devastating and far-reaching,” Markarova said.

“We have seen several hospitals not only destroyed but also completely looted of the equipment,” she said. (Here's Ukraine Ambassador Oksana Markarova's message to the HIMSS conference. The story continues below.)

Markarova said Russian attacks have hampered vaccination efforts and management of chronic diseases.

Throughout the invasion, doctors and nurses have been working non-stop, Markarova said.

“Ukraine's healthcare providers … demonstrated remarkable resilience and devotion to their country and to our people. Our doctors and nurses, since February 24, 2022, have remained in the hospital 24/7,” Markarova said. “They performed surgeries and saved lives in unbelievable situations, from deadly missile strikes and fires. They rushed to the front line and demonstrated what true adherence to the Hippocratic Oath is.”

Some who just graduated from medical schools have gone to the front lines to help Ukraine’s soldiers, Markarova said.

“Despite all the hardship and obstacles in place, we’re hopeful,” she said.

Markarova thanked President Biden’s administration and Congress for their support of Ukraine in the war with Russia.

“Ukraine's healthcare system could not have survived without the support of so many friends and partners in the United States,” Markarova said.

She also offered thanks to many in the healthcare industry who have donated medical supplies.

“Your support has been pivotal in supplying medication and life-saving medical devices to alleviate shortages in critical zones, providing life-saving care to both civilians and our brave military,” Markarova said.

“We’re deeply touched by your support, whether it's a small non-profit that provided mental health consultation within Ukraine, or large organizations such as the World Health Organization, U.S and European Union governments that provided timely medical care to the refugees outside of Ukraine, most of whom are women and children," she added.

Markarova said HIMSS “has a unique position to galvanize its members to consult and assist in post-war digital health reconstruction of infrastructure and population health systems.”

Ukraine needs the assistance of the private sector and academics “to support and restore our healthcare system,” Marakova said.

In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, ransomware groups supporting the Russian government have launched attacks on U.S. health systems, cybersecurity experts said in a panel discussion at the HIMSS Conference Wednesday.

“Whether it's through the explicit or tacit permission, or encouragement by the Russian government, these attacks dramatically increased” said John Riggi, national advisor for cybersecurity and risk for the American Hospital Association.

Earlier this year, several hospitals and health systems saw their websites go down or experience problems, and a pro-Russia hacktivist group called “KillNet” claimed credit for the disruptions. The group specializes in “denial of service” attacks which hampered websites, but didn’t affect patient operations, officials said.

The Lehigh Valley Health Network said in February it suffered a ransomware attack launched by a group with ties to Russia.

Since the war in Ukraine began, Riggi said, “Russia is encouraging ransomware groups to attack us.”

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