Refugee crisis strains Moldova's healthcare system, minister says

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WARSAW, March 22 (Reuters) - The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Moldova is putting huge pressure on its health care system and it has appealed for help from the European Union and U.N. agencies, the country's health minister said on Tuesday.

More than 331,000 refugees have entered Moldova since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and of them 100,000 are still in the country, Ala Nemerenco told a joint press conference with the World Health Organization (WHO), streamed live from Chisinau.

Moldova, a small former Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and EU member Romania, is one of Europe's poorest countries and has a total resident population of just 2.6 million people. Like Ukraine it aspires to join the EU and NATO.

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"Obviously the resources of the country are limited and we wouldn't want this to affect or become a burden for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova," Nemerenco said.

"That is why we have addressed all our partners to ask for support in this situation," she said. "Unfortunately these events without any precedent here are really very serious and put our health system under very big pressure."

Despite EU offers of help, Nemerenco said some Ukrainians with various illnesses preferred to stay in Moldova for language reasons and to remain physically close to Ukraine.

Addressing the same news conference, WHO Europe chief Hans Kluge praised Moldova's role in taking in refugees and said he was seeking urgent assistance for Chisinau from key donors including the EU.

Latest U.N. data on Tuesday showed more than 3.5 million people have now fled abroad from the war in Ukraine, including 2.1 million to Poland. Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, which also border Ukraine, have also taken in large numbers. read more

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Reporting by Karol Badohal, Editing by Jennifer Rigby and Gareth Jones

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