The importance of hospital partnerships for the reconstruction and long-term strengthening of the healthcare system in Ukraine was the focus of the First Healthcare Partnership Conference Ukraine/Germany, which took place in Berlin from July 3 to 5, 2023. The highlight of the event, which was jointly hosted by the Hospital Partnerships funding programme and Charité for more than 150 physicians and health professionals from Germany and Ukraine, was the panel discussion on the reconstruction of the Ukrainian health care system on July 4 at the Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus. German Development Minister Svenja Schulze, Health Minister Prof. Dr. Karl Lauterbach, Ukrainian Ambassador Oleksii Makeiev and Charité CEO Prof. Hayo Kroemer discussed the short- and long-term needs of the war-torn country as well as the prospects for support and cooperation.
Svenja Schulze emphasised the importance of knowledge sharing between Ukrainian and German partners to turn reconstruction into a reality. "And this is what's happening in the community partnerships and in the clinic partnerships", said the federal minister. Miss Schulze also reiterated the aspiration to rebuild Ukraine's health care system better than it was before the war, in line with the Lugano principles. A decentralised good network of health care must be created, she said. This is what Ukraine itself has described. Civil society actors such as medical professionals are extremely important for this, but it also requires worldwide knowledge, hence, the knowledge of international partnerships, which need to be more closely involved in the cooperation. This is not an easy endeavour, she said, but along with the very good cooperation already in place and the strong network of hospital partnerships, she sees a good basis for the future: "We now have a good community network, we have a network of clinics, and we have a platform in Germany that is coordinating the reconstruction from the German side. We are well prepared."
During the discussion, Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Health, Prof. Dr. Sergiy Dubrov, highlighted the importance of hospital partnerships as well. "This partnership is very important for Ukraine," said the minister, who had already spoken about the dramatic situation in hospitals in his welcoming speech at the opening of the conference. Nearly 1,000 healthcare facilities had been completely destroyed, he said, and quite a few specialists had left the country or had to flee. Dubrov, who is himself a trauma surgeon, vividly described the situation in the country's treatment rooms and operating rooms, where vital operations sometimes have to be performed without electricity and simply with the light of cell phones or headlamps.
"We continue to ask for your support," Dubrov addressed Svenja Schulze and Karl Lauterbach. In her closing remarks, the minister then reaffirmed Germany's support: "The Ukrainians decide what is best for Ukraine. And we will support as long as it is necessary," Schulze said. "That is what we have promised and that is what we will do."
Mental health emergency in Ukraine
The mental stresses placed on the population by the war played an important role at the conference. During the panel discussion on mental health and trauma, Nataliya Maruta of the Academy of Science in Kharkiv thanked the Solomiya Hospital Partnership Project for its work. In the collaborative project, more than 20 Ukrainian and five German healthcare institutions work on mental health, traumatology and emergency medicine under the leadership of the Charité. Maruta backed up the relevance of this work with figures: "We currently have 70 per cent more mental illnesses and a great need for mental health protection measures."
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach also stressed the need to keep an eye on the physical health of medical staff. "We must not lose the health personnel," said the minister in view of the traumatising conditions under which doctors and all medical personnel currently have to work.
The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) responded early to the country's devastation to promote the maintenance of healthcare through 17 hospital partnerships between Ukraine and Germany. Within the past twelve months, a dense cooperation network with more than 50 Ukrainian and German healthcare facilities has been established, contributing to the long-term strengthening of the Ukrainian healthcare system. Currently, 17 hospital partnership projects are working to maintain and restore the healthcare system. The network partners share the common goal of improving the psychological care of people in the Ukrainian war zone as quickly and realistically as possible. In addition, the people on the ground need emergency medical support. In this emergency situation, hospital partners are building a dynamic and needs-based platform that will benefit both patients and health professionals. It is designed to provide tangible support to the entire Ukrainian population experiencing stress and trauma from the war. The clinic partnerships have already enabled the following services: