Ukraine locked down early and has a far lower rate of coronavirus infections than some countries in Western Europe, plus fewer than 400 deaths so far. Yet 20 percent of cases are among medical personnel – one of the worst rates in the world.
By the health ministry’s own admission, that’s due to a severe shortage of protective equipment. The ministry says it’s doing its best to correct the situation and buy the necessary protective suits and masks. Yet it has been reluctant to co-operate with the country’s independent medical procurement agency, set up to prevent corruption in state purchases.
In fact, for the first time since 2015, the ministry chose to buy medical equipment directly. It ended up paying double the price the procurement agency had found, from a Chinese exporter via an untested Ukrainian intermediary, for protective suits that still have not arrived. Meanwhile, some 23,000 suits made in Ukraine languish in a warehouse.
The news smacks of the “bad old days” before the 2014 Maidan revolution, when medical procurement at inflated prices was one of the biggest sources of kickbacks for corrupt Ukrainian officials. It comes at a time when numerous figures from that era seem to be making a comeback in various areas of public life.The ministry insists it is only trying to buy the best equipment and has now vowed to support Ukrainian firms in obtaining certificates of quality. But that announcement only came after reformist officials, activists and journalists started ringing the alarm bells as loudly as they could.