The Atlantic Council (AC) hosted an online event: “How Ukraine is Handling Coronavirus.” Melinda Haring (AC Eurasia Center), Yulia Kovaliv (Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine), Andrey Stavnitser (Co-owner and CEO of TransInvestService), and Dr. Ulana Suprun (former Acting Minister of Health of Ukraine) discussed the crucial topic of the present situation in Ukraine regarding COVID-19. Ukrainian experts from different fields, health care, business, and government shared their knowledge on how Ukraine is dealing with the virus and offered advice on building an effective strategy to tackle Coronavirus.
As of April 1st, there were 669 confirmed cases in Ukraine, 17 of them fatal. The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine introduced an Emergency Situation regime in Ukraine to prevent the spread of the virus. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy provides daily information about the current status of the virus and receiving supplies from China and Korea. But how is Ukraine is facing the virus in reality? And what should be done to achieve the best results for saving as many lives as possible?
Dr. Ulana Suprun asserted that Ukraine is a bit late in reacting to Coronavirus. The low number probably reflects the limited amount of testing, thus far, in Ukraine. She also added that Ukraine has had almost half a million people return from abroad and a lot of people who returned were infected and spread the virus faster. Now, most of the cases are in Kyiv, Kyiv oblast, Chernivtsi and Ivano-Frankivsk. One of the biggest current problems is the lack of testing and necessary equipment. Ukraine has only approximately 6,000 ventilators; for a population of about 37 million, it is a pretty low number. Germany, in comparison, has about 25,000 ventilators and they have already ordered 10,000 more. Ulana Suprun suspects that in the next couple of weeks, we will see the exponential growth of the cases in Ukraine. She thinks that the most important thing for Ukraine to do right now is to develop a plan and strategy on how the country is going to move forward.
Andrey Stavnitser, who is based in Odesa, talked about the preparedness of hospitals. A lot of necessary supplies are coming to Ukraine thanks to the business community and volunteers. He said that the national government has not provided much essential help yet. Although protective gear and ventilators have been purchased from around the world, Ukraine is faced with shortages of health care professionals due to resignations of hospital personnel, with resignation levels of up to 50% in some facilities. The business community has initiated a special fund to provide more financial help to doctors –but this often has not been enough to convince them to stay on. The business community is planning to hire 3,000 doctors and nurses who will deal with only Coronavirus patients. They even found a couple of companies that are making replicas of Soviet ventilators but on a really small scale — producing only, approximately, 10 ventilators per month.
And there is another problem in Ukraine in dealing with the virus: fraud.
Yulia Kovaliv, from the President’s office, discussed the economic situation in Ukraine and the government’s efforts. She mentioned that Ukraine is competing with the whole for masks and equipment. The government has 24/7 a hotline with retailers and all kinds of businesses in Ukraine to provide as much aid as they can. She also described other initiatives: the government, in cooperation with IT-teams, is currently developing a “smart system” to track infected people and their contacts. Two weeks ago, two pieces of legislation were adopted with the aim of supporting small and medium-sized businesses. For now, it is important to maintain stability and get foreign aids from the IMF, World Bank, and other international organizations, explained Ms. Kovaliv.
Regarding communications between the government and citizenry, Dr. Suprun mentioned that Ukrainians are getting mixed messages and they feel confused about what they should do. There has also been a lack of coordination between the central and local governments, she suggested. However, Yulia Kovaliv shared that there is a Coordination Center team, led by the President, which meets every day and conducts video calls with all regions. The team includes the President, Prime Minister, Healthcare Minister, and many others. Mr. Stavnitser, meanwhile, welcomed the appointment of the new Minister of Healthcare – Maksym Stapanov, who is a former governor of Odesa.
As for ongoing health care reform in Ukraine, Melinda Haring shared her concern regarding whether it is prudent to overhaul the health care system in the country while at the same time trying to contain an epidemic. Yulia Kovaliv explained that since Ukraine is already halfway into implementing these changes, it would be more disruptive to stop it and turn back. Moreover, the reform is going to facilitate efforts to quell the crisis by eliminating bureaucracy in hospitals and letting doctors and patients complete forms electronically.
At the end of the online event, Ms. Haring asked for the names of trustworthy that might be worth supporting in order to help Ukraine in tackling COVID-19. Dr.Ulana Suprun recommended “Patients of Ukraine,” which working with individual hospitals throughout the country and providing them with needed equipment. Andrey Stavnitser said that the NGO he supports and trusts is “Monsters Corporation” based in Odesa and known for quick, small and big volunteer help. And Yulia Kovaliv advised donating to “Tabletochki”, which provides an examination, diagnostics, and medicine for Ukraine.
The speakers from Ukraine agreed that listening carefully to the experts, having responsible and responsive leaders in oblasts, testing more people and getting more medical equipment will help subdue the crisis. Yulia Kovaliv stated that good communication is as important as medical supplies.
Diana Kim is an intern with the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation.