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FEATURE STORY May 27, 2021

Strengthening the Ukrainian Health Sector’s COVID-19 Response

Ukraine registered its first case of COVID-19 in early March 2020. The sample had been sent to a laboratory in Kyiv from a city in the Chernivtsi region, roughly 500 km from the Ukrainian capital. “At that time, it was only possible to analyze a SARS-CoV-2 sample at our laboratory. On the evening of March 2, 2020, we confirmed a positive case from Chernivtsi region. We immediately informed the World Health Organization,” said Iryna Demchyshyna, who is the head of the virology laboratory at the State Institution ‘Public Health Center’ in Kyiv.

Ten days later, the Government of Ukraine would impose a national quarantine in an attempt to contain the pandemic. As the number of cases rose across Ukraine, the country’s healthcare system confronted significant shortages of essential supplies, such as masks, respirators, rapid tests, hospital beds, and medical oxygen.

COVID-19 PCR test process, Chernihiv Region, Ukraine. © World Bank

In the face of this unfolding crisis, the World Bank was ready and able to help Ukraine. Through a fast-track process, the institution rapidly restructured and reallocated existing projects to meet Ukraine’s urgent need in responding to this unprecedented health emergency. In early April 2020, Ukraine received $22 million through the restructured Serving People, Improving Health (SPIH) Project . This was supplemented that same month with additional financing of $135 million in order to support critical hospital upgrades and reforms as well as provide much-needed training to thousands of Ukrainian doctors.

"There were no reagents for testing for COVID-19 at the regional level. Local laboratories were only able to diagnose the flu. Until May-June 2020, there was no testing capacity in the country’s regions. Gradually, it got better. By the end of 2020, we were conducting 20,000-30,000 tests per day. Now, it is about 50,000-60,000 tests each day."
Iryna Demchyshyna
Iryna Demchyshyna
Head of the virology laboratory at the State Institution ‘Public Health Center’

The World Bank also allocated about $250,000 to launch a COVID-19 emergency hotline for the Ukrainian Ministry of Health. Requests from citizens from all over the country are processed around the clock by the toll-free hotline number: 0-800-60-2019.

"When we started, the workload was staggering. Last November, there were about 6,000 calls per day. Even when the intensity of the pandemic was less intense, we never had fewer than 1,000 calls a day. We can immediately feel the pressure when the pandemic is worsening."
Оleh Chornobryvtsev
Оleh Chornobryvtsev
Manager of the emergency hotline call center

Ukraine’s healthcare system received $26 million through the World Bank-financed SPIH to treat COVID-19 patients:

  • $11 million to reimburse 100 hospitals for expenditures related to maintaining and bolstering their infectious diseases centers and departments;
  • $10 million to cover expenditures in treating 135,000 COVID-19 patients, including more than 23,000 people receiving intensive care; and
  • $5 million related to expenses for emergency visits.

"Over seven months, emergency medical teams visited around 122,000 patients with, or suspected of having, COVID-19. 94,000 people would be hospitalized."
Anna Fenchak
Anna Fenchak
Deputy head of the Medical Guarantee Program Department of Ukraine’s National Health Service

And the World Bank continues to support Ukraine in strengthening its COVID-19 response, including financing for the purchase and distribution of eligible vaccines. In May 2021, the Bank launched the new Ukraine Emergency COVID-19 Response and Vaccination Project, which provides $90 million to be employed by the Ministry of Health for the country’s vaccine rollout. The project supports the country’s effort to vaccinate 10 million people from priority groups, specifically healthcare workers and the elderly. The project also aims to strengthen COVID-19 testing and improve the country’s infrastructure for vaccine storage and logistics.

For over a year, the World Bank has assisted the Ukrainian government and healthcare authorities in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic – helping strengthen the country’s healthcare capacity and setting Ukraine on the path toward a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive recovery from this unprecedented crisis.