Treating the Flu Epidemic in Kharkiv, Ukraine

Pharmacy in Central Kharkiv, Ukraine

Since the flu season began on September 28 2015, 336 people have reportedly died in Ukraine from influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and swine flu — the highest total since 2010. Western regions have been affected particularly hard, with the largest number of deaths in the Odessa region (41) and the city of Kiev (38). Moreover, despite the official end of the epidemic announced on February 23 2016, infection rates for children under the age of 17 and adults over the age of 60 remain precipitous.

Older people are afraid of vaccinations and believe they are dangerous. The low availability of vaccines in hospitals and clinics only makes this problem worse.
— Male, 27 years old, Nurse

Kharkiv, with a population of 1.5 million people, has the lowest rate of infection in the country, at 18.2% per 10,000 residents. A decree by Kharkiv mayor Gennady Kernes on January 27 requiring employees of organizations in contact with larger numbers of people to wear medical masks, as well as secondary school quarantines at the peak of the epidemic (mid- to late-January), appear to have helped contain the infection. Health care spending has also increased, with a 2016 budgetary allocation of 1.12 billion UAH [41.3 million USD] — 4.3% more than in 2015 and one of the highest totals in Ukraine — approved by the city council on December 23 2015.

People are now more aware of the symptoms and schools were quarantined. The requirement that workers in certain organizations wear medical masks contribute to the sufficient local response.
— Female, 28 years old, Nurse

Despite sufficient countermeasures, medical personnel in Kharkiv lamented ongoing vaccine shortages and rising prices of over-the-counter flu medications. In one instance, a local doctor noted how the price for Tamiflu, a popular flu medication, had risen from 200 UAH [7.3 USD] to 800 UAH [29.5 USD] in less than two weeks in early February.

While quarantines have been heavily publicized on TV, real action in the form of federal funding or adequate medical supplies has not occurred. It seems like federal funds are going elsewhere.
— Male, 48 years old, Doctor

Medical personnel expressed belief in the national healthcare system, but suggested Kharkiv’s ability to counter the epidemic was an indication that future improvements to the system will be driven by local actors.