UN agencies support Iraq’s efforts to curb outbreak of cholera

WHO Iraq representative Dr. Naeema Al-Gasseer talks with patients at a Baghdad hospital

10 September 2008 – United Nations agencies are helping Iraq to contain the recent deadly outbreak of cholera, with more than two dozen confirmed cases and nearly 200 others under investigation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is providing technical support to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, and, along with other UN entities, has been aiding cholera-affected governorates since the disease resurfaced three weeks ago.

WHO has taken on a coordination role in efforts to tackle cholera and is working to fortify Iraq’s disease surveillance system in identifying new cases. It is also supplying emergency supplies to laboratories to enhance their testing capability.

The agency said that 10 deaths have been reported this year, and 174 suspected cases are being investigated to determine whether patients have cholera.

Last year witnessed nearly 5,000 cholera cases and 24 deaths, mostly in the north. “This year’s outbreak is very different,” said Naeema Al-Gasseer, WHO Representative to Iraq. “The majority of cases are now in rural areas where most people lack access to safe water and adequate sanitation.”

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is sending water tankers, oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets, and the agency said it is also on standby to provide any additional support needed.

WHO cautioned that the overall quality of water and sanitation in Iraq is very poor, which could facilitate the spread of cholera.

The Government’s prompt response – including ensuring medical supplies and chlorine are available and sending clean drinking water – has curbed the disease’s spread.

Both WHO and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) recommended that in the long run, the country upgrade its water and sanitation networks and improve its power supplies to treatment plants to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.


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