War is ‘worst disaster,’ says disaster-response specialist

As war is waged across Ukraine, a UW Medicine specialist with international disaster-response experience says the conflict creates a healthcare scarcity that reverberates far beyond front lines.

“War represents the biggest and perhaps the worst disaster that could be,” said Stephen Morris, emergency medicine physician. He has traveled to provide care immediately after events such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2017's Hurricane Harvey, and violent conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Morris says that refugees forced to leave war-torn communities may lack access to routine medications for chronic conditions, and face nutritional deficiencies, exposure to cold weather without shelter, and severe psychological stress.

“People ... will be physically and emotionally traumatized. They have acute healthcare concerns [and] certainly will have chronic healthcare concerns,” said Morris. He provides emergency care for patients at Harborview and University of Washington medical centers.

Civilians living along the frontlines of the conflict are also sustaining traumatic injuries, which Morris says puts healthcare workers in a rare and dire situation.

“I feel for the healthcare providers, having been in that situation, because you can feel quite impotent. Especially when you don't have access to lifesaving treatments, and you know what to do but you can't do it,” said Morris. “[They’re] put in a position to care for traumatic wounds and blast injuries and things that are seen only in these terrible conflict situations.”

UW Medicine