As France hails a "great surge of generosity" from its citizens in welcoming refugees from Ukraine, some experts warn that Europe must prepare for a continuing influx of unvaccinated people.
Conditions of war are known breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria – an invisible enemy – with limited access to clean water propelling the spread of disease among crowded populations of desperate people.
In an comment piece published in The Lancet, researchers warned that increased support was needed for countries on the front lines of the Ukraine conflict, like Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, who are feeling the strain of mass arrivals from their neighbours.
They called on "all" European countries to adopt "evidence-based approaches" that would properly respond to the health needs of displaced Ukrainians suffering a multitude of illnesses.
The refugees - mostly women and children - fear Russian shelling far more than the threat of COVID-19 and other communicable illnesses, including a resurgence of polio.
In its emergency response, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has been working to provide people with basic needs by handing out trauma kits and training medical staff both in Ukraine, in neighbouring countries, and at border crossing points.
Of the roughly 2.8 million people who the UN says have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, some 13,900 have arrived in France – with thousands more on the way.
Food, clothes, accommodation and other donations are being funnelled through a centralised government platform.
Marlène Schiappa, the Minister Delegate in charge of Citizenship, has lauded the effort, and said that everyone from ordinary people to elected officials and businesses had joined in.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has warned the war in Ukraine, where about 34% of people are vaccinated against COVID-19, risks accelerating the pandemic – especially as local hospitals run out of crucial medical supplies and people are forced into makeshift bunkers.
"Certainly this pandemic is not taking a break despite the fact that we have this war, despite the fact that we have challenges and many countries are facing challenges right now," WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove warned.
As well as a spike in cases in Europe, infectious disease experts say the war could also give rise to the emergence of new virus variants.
"What we’re dealing with now in Ukraine is a double crisis," Maire Connolly, a global health professor at the National University of Ireland, Galway, told the The Washington Post.
Unvaccinated young people sheltering in unventilated basements for protracted periods have been identified as the main potential vectors.
Text initially published on: RFI