MSF Forced to End Activities in Donetsk, Leaving Thousands Without Health Care

Jon Levy/Foto8

Brussels—On October 19, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) received written notification from the Humanitarian Committee of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) that its accreditation in the self-proclaimed state had been withdrawn. The international medical humanitarian organization was asked to immediately stop its activities. It was not provided with a reason for the decision.

MSF has up until now coordinated all its activities with the authorities and is willing to continue this collaboration for the sake of the health of thousands of vulnerable citizens of DPR, the organization said Friday. 

"We are extremely concerned by this move, which will deprive thousands of people of lifesaving medical assistance," said Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. "This decision will have life-threatening consequences for the patients MSF is now leaving behind. We are urging the DPR Humanitarian Committee to reconsider the decision without delay in order for us to resume providing much-needed health care." 

Since the beginning of the conflict in May 2014, MSF has donated medication and material to 170 medical facilities to treat war-wounded and patients with chronic diseases. MSF has also conducted more than 85,000 consultations together with the local health care authorities through 40 mobile clinics since March 2015, providing health care to people living in places from where doctors and nurses have fled or where pharmacies are empty. 

"We are almost the only organization providing treatment for tuberculosis in prisons, insulin for diabetic patients, and hemodialysis products to treat kidney failure," said Janssens. "With the termination of our activities from one day to the next, thousands of patients suffering from chronic, potentially fatal diseases will now be left with little or no assistance."

MSF is currently providing 77 percent of the insulin needed for patients over age 18 with diabetes in the area under DPR control. Teams also supply 90 percent of the products necessary to conduct hemodialysis treatment, vital for patients suffering from kidney failure.

"Without the steady supply of these lifesaving treatments, severe health complications can occur," said Janssens. "There are very few back-up options for these people now that MSF has stopped its activities. We are deeply saddened that so many patients will be left behind."  

Some 150 patients in the penitentiary system who live with drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) will now no longer have access to the treatment that MSF has been providing since 2011.

"There is a huge risk that the health of these patients will deteriorate soon," said Janssens. "Any interruption of treatment of patients with drug-resistant TB is known to reduce dramatically the prospects of cure, even if they restart treatment later. Prisons in Ukraine are known to have very high numbers of drug resistant TB, and if these treatments are interrupted, this will lead to a major risk to public health."

Today, MSF urgently requests the Humanitarian Committee to reconsider the withdrawal of the organization’s accreditation so that it can resume lifesaving medical activities.

"As a medical organization we ethically cannot accept being forced to abandon our patients," said Janssens. “The decision must be reviewed so crucial health care can once more be provided to those in need."

MSF has been working in eastern Ukraine since 2011 and has been providing medical humanitarian aid through mobile clinics and donations to health care facilities on both sides of the conflict since May 2014.

Paediatrician Dr Galina Piskunova examines 8-year-old Amina at the MSF mobile clinic set up 16 April 2015 in the town of Zorinsk near Lugansk.
Jon Levy/Foto8