WHO sounds alarm on Ukraine's creaking health system

A Ukrainian Army tank rides on January 3, 2015 near the eastern Ukrainian village of Pisky, in the northeastern Donetsk region (AFP Photo/Vasily Maximov)

Geneva (AFP) - Fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine has wreaked havoc on the health system, with more than five million people affected, the United Nations said on Friday.

The World Health Organization said access to primary, secondary and emergency health services was "critically needed," adding that the health infrastructure was buckling under the humanitarian crisis.

Dorit Nitzan, the WHO representative in Ukraine, said the UN health body urgently needed at least $23 million (19 million euros) to provide better health facilities to some five million people, classing 1.4 million of them as highly vulnerable.

WHO said the worst affected were an estimated 700,000 people displaced people, along with the Roma community, women, children and old people.

"Hospitals are disconnected with water and electricity at times", especially in Lugansk and Donetsk, Nitzan said, referring to two hard-hit eastern regions.

WHO said average vaccination coverage across the country was well below 50 percent, adding that up to 70 percent of health workers were thought to have either fled or died.

HIV/AIDS patients and those with tuberculosis were at risk of interrupted treatment and checks in the Donbas region, it said, adding that the incidence of TB was rising.

"People dont have access to full medication," Nitzan said.

"This is a situation that is spreading," she warned, adding: the health sector was "completely collapsing."

Clashes have intensified in the east as part of an upsurge in violence in recent days in a conflict that has killed more than 4,800 people since first erupting in April 2014.