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“Children Are Our Future.” Specialty Pediatric Care Reaches Ukrainian Villages

Clinics bring specialists to a rural area of central Ukraine, where screening and care can be difficult to access for the youngest patients.


Ukraine Relief

A child and her guardian consult with health worker at the "Care for Your Health" one-day mobile pediatric clinic at the school in Velyka Sevastyanivka in Ukraine’s central Cherkasy Region. (Nick Allen/Direct Relief)

UKRAINE – Since most children in the central Ukrainian village of Velyka Sevastyanivka would not have previously undergone specialist medical examinations, the pediatric clinic with 16 doctors who arrived from Kyiv this summer was a godsend to many families.

Bringing also laboratory testing facilities, the capital’s Okhmatdyt National Children’s Specialized Hospital provided a day-long ‘one-stop shop’ of consultations – supported by Direct Relief and free of charge – to more than 200 children from local and displaced families living locally.

Dr. Olga Medvedeva of Kyiv’s Okhmatdyt National Children’s Hospital shows rapidly generated computerized results across 24 test parameters for a blood sample taken from a child. (Nick Allen/Direct Relief)

“I always dreamed of this,” says Olga Medvedeva, a hematologist who persuaded her management to launch the “Care for Your Health” project 16 months ago, starting in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha after it was freed from a brutal Russian occupation.

The project was an instant hit: So far, 54 mobile clinics reached more than 6,000 children in five regions of Ukraine, which has been battling Russia’s invading forces for the past 18 months. “Our soldiers are fighting on their front, and we are fighting on the medical front,” the doctor says.

Parents can opt to see selected specialists or all 16 if they wish. While medical outreach programs are not uncommon, there is no analog to this level of care anywhere in the country, according to Medvedeva, whose team arrives in a bus and an ambulance and sets up the clinics in local schools.

Residents of Velyka Sevastyanivka arrive for the pediatric clinic at the village’s school. The event provided full health screening from 16 specialist doctors with a portable laboratory for 202 children. (Nick Allen/Direct Relief)

Apart from responding to urgent needs in war-affected areas, the project brings quality healthcare to communities that are simply remote. For example, while there is a small hospital nearby, Velyka Sevastyanivka’s around 3,000 residents must drive three hours to the Cherkasy Region’s capital to see certain specialists or get more complex treatment.

“It’s wonderful that people can come and care for their children without charge, especially in villages where health is neglected,” says Taia, an internally displaced person (IDP) from the southern Kherson Region who came to the mobile clinic with six of the eight children who have been orphaned that she and her husband are raising.

According to the organizers, the majority of children in rural areas visited never received specialized health screening. This is partly due to their location but also the tendency of many parents to address health problems only when they occur, rather than getting preventative checkups.

Families register for the mobile pediatric clinic in Velyka Sevastyanivka, one of 54 organized by Kyiv’s Okhmatdyt National Children’s Hospital in five regions of Ukraine. (Nick Allen/Direct Relief)

The new approach is producing clear results: around 20% of children seen at each clinic are referred to Okhmatdyt National Children’s Specialized Hospital for further examination, while 7-10% are hospitalized there for treatment.

Seeing is Believing

Direct Relief supported 13 of the mobile clinics, which were attended by 3,987 children, with financial and medical aid. The project’s extension to the Cherkasy Region was supported by Direct Relief’s partner there, the NGO Charity Fund Modern Village and Town (CFMVT). Its head, Marina Makarenko, is herself from Bucha and took her two children to see an endocrinologist at an Okhmatdyt clinic there last July.

She was so impressed by the care provided that she resolved to bring the project to Cherkasy, where her family sheltered during Bucha’s occupation and where her NGO had already worked for several years.

“In the district centers, there are no children’s specialists except for a pediatrician and a neurologist. And in the villages, the only doctor for everyone is a paramedic,” she says. “We see confirmation of this in the fact that with each visit, 60% of children are examined by narrow specialists for the first time.”

A visiting ophthalmologist examines a child with the help of some distracting props. (Photo courtesy of CFMVT)

Another clinic visitor is Valentina, who marvels at how her three grandchildren can be fully checked over in the space of a few hours. “It would take three or four days to do the same at a hospital,” she says, citing also the high travel and accommodation costs that families may incur.

A queue of people also waits to see the team’s psychologist. Because of the relative rural calm in this region, it attracted thousands of IDPs from frontline areas. “Lots of children have trauma from explosions, for example, which, if not addressed, can cause a cascade of other psychological issues,” says the specialist.

Since mid-June, CFMVT facilitated seven Okhmatdyt clinics in the region. Eight more are planned until the end of August when the initial project ends and the NGO will seek funding to extend it: “We would like to share this project to as many regions as possible,” Makarenko says. “Children are our future; they must be healthy.”

Affectionately referring to the mobile clinic project as “her baby,” Dr. Medvedeva is also looking beyond the country’s current fight for survival and to the long term.

“Especially in such small settlements, the main goal is prevention – we are thinking ahead about what kind of young people will grow up and live and work in Ukraine,” she says.

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