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A Bomb Shelter and 10 Tons of Medicine: Care for TB During War

  • March 23, 2023
  • Access to Medicine, Communicable Disease, Community Health
  • Ukraine
  • This is a newly renovated area in the basement of the Odessa Center. This area was created in order to secure and separate TB patients to prevent spreading of the disease during an air raid alarm. Thanks to Americares grant, LifePlus, the hospital was able to renovate a portion of the basement for this purpose.

“Patients and staff are glad and thankful that such a modern and secure shelter was organized for their safety. Unfortunately, air raid alerts go off almost every day, and for many people, this is a big stress.”

…Oleksandr Konopko

During wartime, living with tuberculosis becomes even more complex: Patients need a steady supply of medicine and a safe place to shelter during air raids, separate from uninfected people.

Now, in Odesa, Ukraine, TB patients have both.  In March 2023, thanks to our partner Ukraine Restoration Fund in Kyiv, Americares delivered more than 10 tons of medicine and supplies for people with tuberculosis, which was distributed to four health facilities serving hard-hit vulnerable communities.  Months before, with funding from Americares, LifePlus transformed a hospital basement into a proper air raid shelter, with built-in safety features. The hospital serves patients with COVID-19, hepatitis, HIV and TB. The underground shelter is 89 square meters – about 958 square feet.

“This disease is highly infectious; and if we are evacuating people to bomb shelters, we need to make sure that they are separated appropriately in order not to spread the disease to those without an active form of TB,” says Oleksandr Konopko, the general director of the hospital. “That’s why, in the early stage of designing the bomb shelter, we had to consider all these issues and ensure all health procedures were implemented. “

It began here…

A long narrow basement room with exposed brick and concrete debris and one door on left and one at the far end with man standing in the door opening
A basement of the Odesa Center before renovation.

..and progressed to here…..

Partially finished long narrow room with new tile on floor, a paint stained working chair in center - a bare light fixture at far end near door opening and plastic covered building components leaned against the left wall,
A basement of the Odesa Center during renovation.

..and finished here…

A portion of the basement at the Odesa Center has been renovated for tuberculosis patients. Odessa, Ukraine, January 2023.

The shelter now has ventilation systems and power throughout.  An electric generator is connected to the shelter, which ensures its operation and usability even during blackouts. The basement, after renovation, consists of four rooms and a bathroom, can accommodate around 150 people and is suitable for medical services.

“We know that tuberculosis is a serious health issue in Ukraine, leading to significant mortality and morbidity,” says Jake Wheeler, Americares field team lead, Ukraine response.  “That’s why in March, thanks to our partner in Kyiv, Ukraine Restoration Fund, we delivered more than 10 tons of medicines and critical supplies for four essential pulmonary facilities in areas serving the most vulnerable populations. The bomb shelter construction and supply of specialty medicines serve as a complementary approach that strengthens the existing service provision and addresses gaps where the health system might fall short.”

“Patients and staff are glad and thankful that such a modern and secure shelter was organized for their safety. Unfortunately, air raid alerts go off almost every day, and for many people, this is a big stress. For patients affected by war, health and mental health safety is essential. It’s a huge relief for all of them,” says Konopko.

Even before the war, tuberculosis was a pressing problem for Ukraine. According to WHO estimates, Ukraine has the fourth- highest TB incidence rate among the 53 countries of the WHO European Region, with 17, 593 new TB cases registered in 2020. The estimated TB incidence in Ukraine is over seven times higher than that of EU/EEA countries. Before the invasion, the Odesa region has the highest number of TB patients — 140 cases per 100 thousand people — and the situation may be worse now, after interruptions in care. 

When complete, the shelter will be equipped with necessities such as a month’s worth of water and food, first aid kits, bed linen and furniture to make an extended stay in the bomb shelter more comfortable for both patients and personnel. “We greatly appreciate Americares support and attention to our problems caused by the war. The whole team and all the patients are extremely grateful for it! It’s difficult to imagine the situation without your contribution, as it provided such an essential sense of safety,” says Konopko.

Read more about the people of Ukraine and what is happening on the ground in Ukraine and Poland.

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