Ukraine, the impact of the conflict on the health of refugees in Poland

Not only chronic diseases and infections, but also mental health problems related to stress and trauma. Our health intervention in Poland



Two months after the start of our intervention in Poland, and with more than 1,000 medical examinations carried out in the Korczowa transit centre, the data collected by our medical staff gives us a clear picture of the impact of the conflict in Ukraine on the refugee population. “9% of the diagnoses we made in Korczowa are related to mental health underlines Alice Silvestro, INTERSOS doctor – but the impact of stress conditions is much higher if we look at the number of related somatic manifestations, such as cases of high blood pressure, gastritis, insomnia and headaches not related to previous conditions”.


Most patients are diagnosed with hypertensive disease. About 20% of the patients visited were diagnosed with chronic diseases: not only hypertension, but also diabetes, asthma, and some cases of epilepsy. Women and men who, for the vast majority, had to interrupt their treatment because of the war and while fleeing to the border. The data also confirm the high prevalence of women, 68% of patients, and the high number of young or very young children (18% of patients are under 5, while 17% are minors between 5 and 18). The most represented nationalities, apart from Ukrainian, are Uzbek and Tajik (about 8% of the people visited by our staff). The management of serious cases – cancer patients, trauma and severe disabilities – was carried out in close cooperation with the local health authorities, guaranteeing emergency transport to the nearest hospitals and, when necessary to ensure specialised assistance given the large influx of refugees in Polish hospitals, medical evacuation to Italy.


In Poland the cases of vulnerable people in transit are increasing


“In the first phase, when up to 7,000 people a day passed through the centre in Korczowa, our intervention guaranteed a health service that would otherwise have been non-existent in an extremely chaotic and emergency situation,” our Health Programme Coordinator for Europe, Francesco Sinchetto says. “In the second phase, although the flow of refugees decreased, the number of cases of vulnerable people in need of more complex socio-sanitary support and of serious medical cases increased. This is why our presence in Korczowa is still active and why we are increasingly integrating health and health-protection interventions”.


At the beginning of April, INTERSOS contributed to an article in the medical journal Lancet, which stressed the importance of ensuring universal access to care in refugee-hosting countries. This also means paying close attention to demographics. Most displaced persons are women and children who must be guaranteed access to appropriate services such as antenatal care, regular check-ups and vaccinations. Furthermore, it is recommended that careful consideration is given to mental distress and trauma, which are common during humanitarian crises, and to the impact of the migration process on people’s general health. These are aspects that are normally at risk of not being adequately addressed within health systems. In addition, special attention must be paid to communication and cultural mediation, enabling health workers to build trust with displaced communities to design and deliver health and vaccination services.


Indeed, ensuring full access to vaccination systems in host countries is a key priority. Ukraine has historically had low childhood vaccination coverage. It is therefore necessary to offer all newcomers (not only children, but also adolescents and adults) routine vaccinations and the opportunity to catch up on missed rounds (with particular attention to measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus, diphtheria and polio). Special attention should be paid to access to COVID-19 vaccines, given the current low coverage in Ukraine.

Flavia Melillo
Flavia Melillo