In recent history, Ukraine has had a number of health-related concerns that travelers may be well-advised to know and take necessary precautions for. Medical facilities in Ukraine are limited and it is rare that hospitals will accept international health or medical insurance coverage. Western European-standard private clinics in the cities such as Kyiv are usually expensive and doctors expect to be paid in cash. On the other hand, state-run hospitals can be cheaper alternatives but medical equipment may be inadequate or outdated.
On top of the concern on availability and cost of health care in Ukraine, here are some of the common, and not-so-common health conditions in the country:
It has been reported that there is a reemergence of diphtheria in the newly independent countries in Eastern Europe, and Ukraine is among those in the list. Diphtheria is a highly endemic disease found in temperate climates and has been among the leading causes of childhood death around the world. The disease is a serious bacterial infection that causes sore throat, fever, swollen glands, general weakness and in more serious cases can cause damage to the heart, kidneys and nervous system. The bacteria is airborne and can be passed from an infected person to others through sneezing, coughing, contaminated personal and household items. Vaccination can prevent the spread of the bacteria. Treatment for the person who has been diagnosed to contract the disease include isolation and aggressive medication of antitoxin and antibiotics.
HIV and AIDS in Ukraine
In 2006, it was reported that Ukraine has the highest number of reported cases of HIV – not surprising in a country where prostitution is rampant and drugs are easily accessible in the streets. It is said that about 1.4% of the adult population in the country is HIV positive. The areas reported to have had the highest incidences are Crimea, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Odessa and Mykolayiv. The government is said to have established a National AIDS Control Coordinating Council back in 1999, but the objective of preventing the further spread of the disease is far from being achieved. International NGOs are helping in the cause to increase awareness and education for prevention and treatment.
Also known as spring-summer encephalitis, the disease is a viral infection of the central nervous system coming from bites of vector ticks. Infection may also be acquired by eating unpasteurized dairy products from infected livestock. The incidences of the disease are high in forested areas of Eastern Europe, particularly Austria, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Poland. Although travelers who do not visit wooded areas are at low risk, it is still highly advised that they take proper and adequate precaution to prevent getting infected. The use of insect repellent applied either directly to clothing or directly to the skin is recommended, as well as checking the dairy products being consumed while in Ukraine. Vaccination is also present and available – two doses will give about a year’s worth of protection and three doses can cover up to three years.
Hepatitis A and B
Hepatitis A can be transmitted through contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B on the other hand is transmitted through sexual contact or infected needles. Hepatitis A can cause liver inflammation and jaundice and is not commonly fatal, but a serious condition of Hepatitis B can lead to liver failure or liver cancer. Vaccination is available for both so it is highly advised that a complete vaccine be taken for longer coverage and protection from the diseases.
Even though the disaster from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant transpired over ten years ago, caution is still being advised to people against residual radioactivity in the area. Swimming in the Dnipro River, consumption of wild fruits and vegetables especially coming from the Polissyan woods around Chernobyl and drinking tap water are all highly discouraged.
Unequal access to health care especially in the rural areas around Eastern Europe has increased the incidence of TB, especially multidrug-resistant TB across Ukraine. This potentially serious disease is contagious but not especially easy to catch. In Ukraine, the government is on the race to contain this infectious disease by implementing a comprehensive TB control and treatment program. The challenge however lies in the fact that the country also has high HIV infection rates – people with reported HIV/AIDS are far more susceptible to contracting TB. Usually travelers to Ukraine are not in danger of contracting the disease as it requires prolonged contact and exposure to a contagious individual. However it is always a good precaution to consider a TB vaccination especially if you are intending to stay in Ukraine for a longer period of time.