There is a massive need for medicines and medical care in war-torn Ukraine, but getting aid supplies through is virtually impossible. At the same time, the Swedish healthcare service faces medical challenges as Ukrainian refugee patients arrive in Sweden. Bengt Mattson, special adviser at the trade association for the research-based pharmaceutical industry in Sweden (Lif), writes about the disastrous effects of the war on human health and long-term sustainable development.
Before examining the impact of war on the supply of medicines and the ability to provide healthcare, I will first take this opportunity to strongly condemn the Russian invasion. Aggressive acts of war of this kind are unforgivable and destroy every opportunity of building sustainable societies. The consequences are both immediate and long-term. Of course, this insight is intuitive but it is also described with all desirable clarity in the presentation of UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 16 (see the Swedish website on the Sustainable Development Goals, globalamalen.se).
Peaceful societies and freedom from violence are both a goal and a means of sustainable development. Inclusive, responsible and just institutions are the foundation of good governance free from conflict, corruption and violence. All people are equal under the law and must have access to justice and opportunities to exert influence and hold decision-makers accountable.
“No lasting progress can be attained in a context of conflict and violence. Violence not only means human suffering, it also destroys the basis of economic, environmental and social development of society.”
No lasting progress can be attained in a context of conflict and violence. Violence not only means human suffering, it also destroys the basis of economic, environmental and social development of society. Those countries that are affected by war and protracted conflict are those countries that encounter the greatest difficulty in lifting their populations out of poverty. Strengthening the principle of the rule of law and promoting human rights is the key to peaceful, inclusive and sustainable societies.
Difficulty getting medicine into Ukraine
At the moment it is virtually impossible to ensure access to pharmaceuticals in Ukraine. There is a massive need, but not even organizations like UNHCR, Médecins Sans Frontières or the Red Cross are able to enter the country safely. Russia only respects the humanitarian corridors set up for brief periods of time.
“There are also major needs for healthcare in the refugee camps set up in neighboring countries. Aid is reaching these camps, but to have an actual impact, structure and collaboration between all actors is hugely important.”
There are also major needs for healthcare in the refugee camps set up in neighboring countries. Aid is reaching these camps, but to have an actual impact, structure and collaboration between all actors is hugely important. This is why government agencies, aid organisations and we in the business community are urging coordinated action, preferably via the EU’s Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA).
Here in Sweden, the Swedish Medical Products Agency (MPA) and the Civil Contingencies Agency are responsible for coordinating Swedish medical aid shipments. If you would like to read more about pharmaceutical aid donations to Ukraine, more information is available at lif.se.
Swedish healthcare must rise to meet new medical needs
The Ukrainian refugees now arriving in Sweden naturally also have medical needs. In some cases, the drugs that they take are not available here, while treatment guidelines and traditions often differ between countries. Here, the Swedish healthcare system faces challenges in terms of how to give patients access to the drugs they need or equivalent treatments.
Challenges also arise from the fact that both tuberculosis and polio are found in Ukraine and vaccination rates are low. The same is true for measles and COVID-19. Compared with the difficulties people who remain in Ukraine are facing, however, this is nothing.
Swedish pharmaceutical supplies will not be affected
There are no grounds for concern regarding Sweden’s supply of pharmaceuticals. It is robust and is not directly affected by the war in Ukraine. Neither Russia nor Ukraine have any significant exports of pharmaceuticals to Sweden or the rest of Europe.
“In the longer term, of course, there is a risk that the supply of medicines could be affected in our country too, for example if the war leads to fuel shortages and rationing, but at present our challenges are largely non-existent compared to the situation in Ukraine itself.”
In the longer term, of course, there is a risk that the supply of medicines could be affected in our country too, for example if the war leads to fuel shortages and rationing, but at present our challenges are largely non-existent compared to the situation in Ukraine itself.
In order to build increased resilience and secure better preparedness for a coming crisis there are several ongoing initiatives, many of them triggered by the pandemic. Examples of this are the governmental commissions to the Swedish MPA to identify manufacturing capacity in Sweden and the Nordic region, and to build an IT-infrastructure to have better control of existing stocks of pharmaceuticals in Sweden and the need for those medicines in healthcare.
The destructive consequences of the war
I would also like to highlight a few more of the targets of SDG 16. These illustrate how much is being destroyed and rendered impossible in the shadow of war.
Reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere (16.1), End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children (16.2), Promote the rule of law and ensure equal access to justice for all (16.3), Significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime (16.4), and Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms (16.10).
Left photo: Poland refugees from Ukraine wait to register for cash assistance in Warsaw. Photographer: Maciej Moskwa/UNHCR.
Right photo: Bengt Mattson, special adviser, Lif. Photographer: Gunilla Lundström
Throughout 2022 Bengt Mattson is each month presenting, on lif.se, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the perspective of the pharmaceutical industry.