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What impact does war have on Ukrainian cancer care?

The war on Ukraine explained: Hear from our experts
Professor Richard Sullivan

Director, Institute of Cancer Policy and Co-Director of the Centre for Conflict & Health Research

29 April 2022

Before the Russian invasion, cancer was one of the most significant noncommunicable-diseases (NCD) in Ukraine with nearly 13,000 new cancer cases diagnosed per month prior to the conflict. The rapid destruction of infrastructure including hospitals, particularly in the east of the country, as well as increasingly dangerous journeys for patients and healthcare professionals, has meant the loss of many cancer centres.

Ukraine has a modern healthcare system and against extraordinary odds, Ukrainian health officials have been re-deploying staff and patients from conflict areas to safer regional centres in the West.

Many refugees are seeking treatment overseas, and patient organisations across the continent are working with patients in Ukraine to move them to other cancer centres in Europe for care. Patients with complex cancer, such as childhood cancer, are being evacuated out of the country. There is also substantial ongoing efforts to support the still-functioning Ukrainian cancer centres. Because of the unique cancer challenge, the World Health Organisation, European Commission and other partners have brought together taskforces to manage the multiple and complex dimensions of cancer care.

Here at King’s, we have provided critical health intelligence for cancer and palliative care during this crisis through the creation of a health security intelligence group. This group brings together global cancer experience from the Global Oncology Group at the Institute of Cancer Policy, and the Cicely Saunders Institute for Palliative Care. I am also able to connect this group with other bodies, through my members ship of the WHO Cancer Emergency Committee and co-chair of the European Cancer Organisation and American Society of Clinical Oncology Ukrainian network.

Through this group, we have conducted estimates of changes in capacity and capability for cancer and palliative care within and outside Ukraine. The King’s group is assisting with estimates and analysis on the pathways Ukrainian cancer patients are taking through Europe. We are also analysing the capacity and capability of cancer centres in host countries, such as Poland, to manage what has been a rapidly increasing additional burden.

Much of the insight we are bringing to this crisis has been drawn from our work in the Centre for Conflict and Health with colleagues in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Palestine over the last five years on the Research for Health in Conflict programme looking at cancer care within the Syrian conflict and during the war in Afghanistan. Syrian refugees faced similar issues including the complex and rapidly changing movement of people and the speed with which host countries capacity can be overwhelmed. But there are also significant differences. One of these differences is the sheer volume of cancer care required for the Ukrainian population.

The impact we are witnessing is still early in the conflict and further attacks will drive more refugees. This will create even greater strain on both Ukrainian and European capacity. However, with good intelligence and planning, some of the damage to cancer outcomes can be mitigated.


In this story

Richard  Sullivan

Richard Sullivan

Director, Institute of Cancer Policy and Co-Director of the Centre for Conflict & Health Research

Mieke  Van Hemelrijck

Mieke Van Hemelrijck

Professor in Cancer Epidemiology

Ajay Aggarwal

Ajay Aggarwal

Honorary Senior Lecturer and Consultant Clinical Oncologist

Richard  Harding

Richard Harding

Vice Dean (International) and Director and Global Lead, Cicely Saunders Institute of Palliative Care, Policy & Rehabilitation

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