“Russia’s war has shown horrors we could not have imagined,” Olena Zelenska said in a video address to World Health Assembly in Geneva, stressing in particular the consequences for mental health.
“WHO is committed to protecting the most crucial human rights to life and health. Now they are both being violated in Ukraine,” she said.
“The consequences of this war unfortunately will remain for years and decades,” said Zelenska.
Her husband President Volodymyr Zelensky meanwhile addressed another assembly in Switzerland Monday, urging the global elites gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos to ensure maximum sanctions against Russia.
Zelenska’s comments came as countries at the World Health Assembly prepare to discuss a resolution to be presented by Ukraine and its allies on Tuesday, harshly condemning Russia’s invasion, especially its more than 200 attacks on healthcare, including hospitals and ambulances, in Ukraine.
Currently, Zelenska said, “no Ukrainian, neither adult or small children, can be sure that they will wake up tomorrow and a missile will not fly into their house.”
“Doctors can’t be sure that their ambulances will not be bombed on the way to reach the patient.”
Tuesday’s resolution also voices alarm at the “health emergency in Ukraine”, and highlights the dire impacts beyond its borders, including how disrupted grain exports are deepening a global food security crisis.
But while Russia has been shunned and pushed out of other international bodies over its invasion, no such sanctions are foreseen at the World Health Assembly.
“There’s not a call to kick them out,” a Western diplomat told AFP, acknowledging that the sanctions permitted under WHO rules are “very weak”.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach however insisted to journalists Monday that the “resolution uses strong language”, and voiced confidence it had the backing to pass.
A number of the top health officials who took the floor Monday called for broad support for the text.
“We gather here today in a peaceful European city with no need to fear the sound of incoming missiles or artillery… or to fear rape and execution at the hands of invading troops,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the assembly.
“As a group of nations we cannot be pro health, pro humanity, without being against such brutal violence,” as is happening in Ukraine, he said.
“So it is absolutely right that we vote on a motion condemning President Putin’s unjustifiable aggression.”
US Assistant Health Secretary Lloyce Pace agreed.
“Russia’s attacks have destroyed numerous health facilities. Civilians and health workers have been maimed and killed,” she said.
“The international community must and the United States will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine.”
Without mentioning the resolution specifically, Russia meanwhile voiced concern the WHO and its decision-making body were being politicised.
“With deep concern, we have recently been taking note of politicisation attempts of the Organization’s work, as well as deviations from the principle of “impartiality” in its work,” Russia’s Deputy Minister of Health Alexandra Dronova told the assembly.
She called on WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “to prevent the WHO from becoming a political platform.”
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