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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Doctors alert for a possible cholera outbreak in summer season

BAGHDAD, 25 May 2005 (IRIN) - Health experts in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, warned of a possible cholera outbreak this summer, saying they have seen an increase in cases so far this year and called for urgent action to prevent it from spreading.

Dr Duraid al-Khatoon, a paediatrician at the Children’s Teaching Hospital in the capital, told IRIN that as of January 2005 at least one case of cholera in children has been reported every day and that 90 percent of the cases were living in suburbs where sewage treatment is non-existent. He added that last year less than 10 cases were reported by the hospital monthly, representing a three-fold increase in the disease.

“We have entered the summer season and the water and sewage treatment in Baghdad still requires urgent repair. Children are developing cholera from these sources and all my patients are being told not to drink water unless it has been boiled and to keep children from playing in streets,” al-Khatoon added.

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. A person can become infected by consuming water or food contaminated with the bacterium. Common sources of infection are raw or poorly cooked seafood, raw fruit and vegetables or other food that has been contaminated during preparation or storage.

Dr Abdul Jalil, director of the country’s Infectious Diseases Control Centre (IDSC) told IRIN that the loss of large amounts of fluids can rapidly lead to severe dehydration causing death. Sometimes, in serious cases, death can occur within three to four hours if the patient is not adequately treated. He added that had been only two fatal cholera cases in Iraq since 2003.

Jalil highlighted the last cholera outbreak in August 2003, when 187 cases were reported in the southern city of Basra, because of poor sewage and water treatment.

“Many suburbs of the capital still have poor sewage treatment that can lead to contamination of food. Our water is not treated properly and the government should deal with it because a healthy population means a healthy country. The Ministry of Public Works [MoPW] is moving slowly to solve this problem and it’s affecting the health of Iraqis,” Jalil added.

Local officials told IRIN that Baghdad still has old sewage and water pipes which haven't been repaired. The pipes often run beside each other and lack of electricity has caused water to be pumped at low pressure, causing sewage to seep into the fresh water delivery system.

Reconstruction in the country has been hampered by insecurity as Coalition forces and Iraqi troops and police battle insurgents in the centre of the country.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq is working in partnership with the Ministry of Health (MoH) to prevent another cholera outbreak in the country by distributing tablets for water purification and prevention projects in the suburbs of the capital.

Omar Rubaie, a senior official from the Ministry of Municipality and Works (MoMW), told IRIN that insurgency had delayed the completion of their work, following attacks on water pipes and general insecurity.

“Insurgency should be better tackled so that we can work rapidly and with safety and then services can be offered easily to Iraqi people,” Rubaie added.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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