Since the war broke out in Ukraine on February 24th, YCE members, staff and volunteers have organised a coordinated response and operational support for cancer patients in the country.
We first met Inessa and Iulia when they attended YCE’s Leadership Summit in Budapest, one of our last face-to-face meetings before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Inessa and Iulia, together with other formidable cancer patients, have since set up Inspiration Family, one of the first patient organisations inside Ukraine to provide hands-on support for people with cancer affected by the war.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th. YCE launched its crisis response on February 26th.
In 40 days, Youth Cancer Europe has responded to 207 cancer patients who need help accessing continued cancer treatment. Of those, 127 patients are now receiving therapy in hospitals in 16 countries across Europe.
Together with their families (totalling more than 400 people) they now have access to safe and appropriate housing, food and social care. Most importantly, they are treated with love, respect and dignity and are given a chance to live, to get better and to get the medical care they deserve.
However, many cancer patients are still trapped in high-conflict zones, unable to leave. Many of them are men between 18 and 60 years of age, who are yet to receive military exemption.
Out of those trapped in their communities, 16% say it is not safe for them to leave amid active hostilities, while 6% are staying in order not to leave family members behind. 3% also say that they would not know where to go.
Much of our efforts are therefore focused on information gathering and communication with Ukrainian cancer patients on the availability of free medical services and specific cancer medicines and/or therapies for Ukrainian refugees in different European countries, as well as advice on EU legislation, country-specific regulations and legal provisions, and assisting with registration processes in order to access health services. Inspiration Family’s Ukrainian Telegram channel, followed by nearly 3,000 people, also gives daily updates on local information and medicine availability for cancer patients.
While the EU has activated to the Temporary Protection emergency mechanism to allow displaced persons to enjoy harmonised rights across the EU (including the right to residence, access to education for children, access to the labour market, housing and medical assistance) little else is done to ease the European-level coordination of chronically ill patients, including those with life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
In the face of glaring lacks of European-level information, data and most importantly, the lack of coordinated pathways, the contributions of NGOs, such as Inspiration Family and Youth Cancer Europe, remains crucial in solving the urgent needs of Ukrainian cancer patients.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) of the United Nations, there are 7.1 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine and 4.3 million refugees have fled Ukraine. More than 50% of displaced households have children, 57% include older persons and 30% have people with chronic illnesses, including cancer.
With hostilities-related trauma and injuries on the rise, many hospitals have been repurposed to care for the wounded, leading to disruptions to basic and routine health services. Close to half of all pharmacies across the country are also thought to be closed, limiting access to essential medicines.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, over 1,000 health facilities have been affected. The World Health Organisation reported that it is now confirmed that well over a hundred of these were actively targeted by Russia.
The needs of cancer patients (and generally, the management of non-communicable diseases) only ranks 5th in the list of priorities established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) together with the Ukrainian government: behind conflict-related trauma and injuries; maternal and newborn health; food security and nutrition; and the risk of emergency and spread of infectious diseases. The list continues with technological hazards and health risks, mental health needs and the risk of human trafficking and the escalated risk or sexual and gender-based violence.
While our sincere wish for all cancer patients and Ukrainian refugees is to be able to return to their homeland and be able to rebuild their lives in safety and good health, we know that for many, for a considerable time to come, this will not be a reality.
We thank everyone who has supported our efforts so far and ask our readers to help us continue our work by sharing this email and our donation request for Youth Cancer Europe’s EMERGENCY CANCER FUND for UKRAINE.
Find out more about how you can support directly here.
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