Medicine news

The Day – In Ukraine, a desperate search for much-needed medicine

KYIV, Ukraine – The temperature was below freezing and the pharmacy queue was way outside the door. But Tetyana Dagadaeva could not be deterred.

For days, she and her 11-year-old son, Oleksiy, had been desperately seeking the insulin he needed to survive. With his home supply dwindling, they will soon have no choice but to flee the country to keep him alive.

After two hours in the biting wind, the wooden door opened and a woman in a lab coat shouted the message that Dagadaeva had prayed not to hear her again: they were out of stock.

“My son’s life depends on it,” she said grimly, stepping away from the line. Her tears flowed.

As war continues to rage in Ukraine, it is disrupting the flow of essential medicines and medical supplies. When curfews are lifted each morning, people in cities across the country rush to line up at pharmacies in the hope of finding what they need.

On Telegram groups, volunteers help contact pharmacies for those who cannot queue themselves. But with already exhausted pharmacy workers, databases of available drugs are not always up to date. Some Ukrainians, like Dagadaeva, struggle to find subsidized supplies, including affordable insulin. They cannot afford to buy small quantities out of pocket.

“We need to shout about it, not just talk,” she said, her voice cracking. “The situation is really bad.”

One recent morning, when 70-year-old Tetyana Rutkis arrived at the pharmacy she runs in central Kiev, she found no one waiting for her outside. When the war broke out, she says, “the queues stretched all the way to the park. Now there are fewer people because there are no medicines.

With no new shipments from warehouses outside Kyiv, word spread that Rutkis had to keep saying no to its customers.

No, she doesn’t have the antibiotics this patient needs. No, the blood pressure medication someone else asked for is already out. No, his last box of insulin is long gone.

“It always hurts to have to tell the sick: I can’t help you,” she said. When she dispensed her last supply of insulin, she said, she felt “helpless”.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she added, her voice trailing off. “It’s painful.”

On three occasions she visited a branch of her pharmacy linked to a children’s clinic which closed at the start of the war, emptying their shelves and dumping piles of medicine in plastic bags which she carried to his store across town. A lot of the drugs are children’s doses, but that just means she has to tell the adults to take more.

Some customers, fearing supplies were running out, bought essential medicines such as antibiotics, leaving those in dire need of them in limbo.

“I worry about everything,” Rutkis said. “Every drug can be critical. You can’t be selective about it.”

At another pharmacy in a large hospital in downtown Kiev, Natasha Bolishyk, 48, turned a small sofa in her office into a bed. Normally, the pharmacy was open 24 hours a day. Now, with roads blocked outside the capital, most of his colleagues have fled or cannot come to work. Her husband and son serve in the Home Defense Forces.

So for 10 days she did not return home, now the operation is ongoing for patients in need. Although a new supply was recently delivered, painkillers and blood pressure medications, which are in much higher demand than usual, sold out almost instantly.

“I try not to think about it because I have no idea how long I’m going to have to work like this,” she said. “It could be long.”

A hospital worker online shared that she had been looking for aspirin for three days. And her sister recently needed Augmentin – a common antibiotic that should be readily available, she said, but they couldn’t find it anywhere and had to have someone haul it across the country. from the city of Lviv, in the west of the country.

Many Ukrainian health workers remain in the country, said Carla Melki, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in the southern port city of Odessa. But stocks of insulin, cancer drugs and dialysis supplies are running out in some places. And the fighting has made it increasingly difficult to deliver medicine to frontline cities.

“It’s a last mile problem, where you have to bring your supplies into the open conflict zone,” Melki said. “We know where the needs are; this is how to reach them.”

Sasha Volkov, deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mariupol, recounted the widespread shortages of food and medicine in the besieged city in an audio message shared on Twitter.

“All the stores were looted five or four days ago,” he said. “People are reporting varying needs for medicine, especially for diabetes and cancer patients. But there’s no way to find it in town anymore.”

Melki said aid and health workers in Odessa, which Russia has yet to attack, are preparing for the “worst-case scenario” as Russian forces drive through southern Ukraine. Doctors Without Borders brought in medical supplies last week to be ready in case the town becomes isolated.

The ICRC sent nearly three tons of insulin to Odessa – enough for 6,500 people for six months – and enough insulin to Dnipro for 9,000 people for three months.

Ukraine’s health ministry said in a statement this month that the government had delivered more than 440 tons of medicine and medical supplies worth more than $6.5 million since the start of the war. Medicines have been sent to the central, eastern and southern regions of Ukraine for distribution to health facilities serving people in the areas most affected by the fighting.

Despite efforts to keep crucial medicines in stock, civilians in cities like Kyiv are struggling to find what they need.

Oksana Avramenko, 53, bundled up in a brown coat and green hat, stood in line for hours looking for a drug she needs to treat her breast cancer. Just before the war started last month, tumors were removed from both of her breasts. But when the fighting broke out, the lab processing her post-surgical test results closed and her chemotherapy was delayed. Now she has trouble finding the prescriptions.

Nearby, Alyona Ocheretnaya, 58, waited in the hope that the pharmacy had a steroid inhaler she needs to control her asthma. For a week, she has not been able to restock, forcing her to cut her dose in half.

“As an asthmatic, I need a higher dose because of the stress,” she said after standing in line for almost two hours.

Even with her shelves emptying quickly, Rutkis walks several miles to and from work every day in wintry weather to distribute all the medicine she can to those in need. Even if the Russians enter Kiev, she says, “I will work and do whatever I can to help.”

“And these are not just noble words,” she added. “It’s something that comes from my soul.”

Bolishyk, the pharmacist at a hospital in downtown Kyiv, said she hoped it wouldn’t get to this point.

“The war will end soon, not the supply,” Bolishyk said. “I want to believe it.”

With the help of a freelance journalist working for the Washington Post in Ukraine, Dagadaeva connected with a freelance volunteer helping civilians navigate wartime pharmacy access and obtained doses of insulin for his son which should soon be delivered to Kiev.

For now, that means they can stay at home in the capital. But when that supply starts to run out, the hard search to find more will start all over again.

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O’Grady and Khudov reported from Kiev. Parker reported from Washington.