The war on Ukraine continues to take a major humanitarian toll, with 4 million refugees having fled the country over the past month according to the Associated Press. President Joe Biden said that 100,000 would be welcomed into the United States, while the majority are settling in other Eastern European countries like Poland.
But whether the refugees have fled to other countries or simply have moved from eastern to western Ukraine, there is no doubt that they lack much of the essentials needed to sustain a good quality of life. Jacksonville dentist John Pfefferle is in Ukraine right now, helping with exams, cleanings, and tooth extractions.
The pediatric dentist told local CBS news that he was there at the behest of a friend and was there for multiple weeks. Pfefferle stayed in western Ukraine, which is relatively safe from Russian attack. However, people in western Ukraine have had to endure bombings and rocket attacks which have killed dozens.
As a pediatric dentist working under difficult conditions, Pfefferle may be unable to offer more advanced care such as prosthodontist services and surgery. But he is doing the best he can. In addition to offering surgery and aid, Pfefferle helps distract the children during difficult times and serves as a further reminder that Ukraine has not been abandoned by the world.
Yet despite the aid from Pfefferle and other volunteers from around the world, none of this is to suggest that things are easy in Ukraine. In fact, the Ukrainian public health system has been under incredible strain even before the war began. Only 35.7% of the Ukrainian population has received two doses of the COVID vaccine, and Ukraine suffers from low vaccination rates from other communicable diseases as well. Furthermore, Ukraine is a major center of HIV as well as medication-resistant tuberculosis.
These problems are of course further exacerbated by the war which invites its new challenges. Doctors who would otherwise treat tuberculosis or HIV must treat battlefield casualties. Hospitals have been closed or otherwise been deliberately targeted by the Russians as part of their terror tactics. The countries which they are fleeing to like Poland and Moldavia also have public health problems of their own.
In the worst-case scenario, problems like these could cause a collapse of the Ukrainian public health system. Outside of Europe, the strain of refugees could cause a backlash in Eastern European countries, potentially hurting European unity at a time when it is needed most against Vladimir Putin.
For the sake of Ukraine, striking back at Russia, and for the Western world, people like Pfefferle are doing an important job in helping Ukrainian refugees. One dentist may not be enough to fix Ukraine’s healthcare system in these difficult times, but it serves as a symbol of what needs to be done. And what needs to be done is more Western support of their system, both in terms of improving public health infrastructure and in allowing Ukrainians to flee somewhere besides Eastern European countries. Biden’s 100,000 initiative is a good start, but it is only a start.