Cholera spreading, authorities in Baghdad doing little

October 8, 2007

Kirkuk (AsiaNews) – The cholera outbreak that began in August in Iraq is spreading quickly. However, the central government and international organisations have failed so far to take the necessary steps to stop it, the Azzaman website said citing anonymous health ministry officials. The steps the government has taken so far can only be described as hopeless, according to these officials, falling far short of the extent of the tragedy.

The outbreak, which affected only the north until now, has spread to the Iranian border. “The last count shows 43 people have contracted cholera in Kordestan province,” said Mohsen Zahrai, who is in charge of water and food-borne diseases in Iran. For the time being it is impossible to contain the outbreak in Iraq, he added.

Some sources told AsiaNews that in Nineveh province there is no hope for the population. Small local villages are overcrowded with refugees fleeing the violence of Baghdad and Mosul.

“Medical centres—they cannot be called hospitals—are so few and lack everything, including drugs and medical staff. Doctors are not coming in to work out of fear of being shot since they have been specifically targeted for murder or abductions,” sources said.

But the problem is much broader. “Water flows on alternate days. And it is not drinkable. There is little electrical power (two hours a day) and the lack of motor generators means no fridge to preserve food, especially meat.”

“No one is interested in this emergency. The health care system doesn’t practically exist; the government doesn’t exist; not even international organisations are helping us.”

“We are in need of 150 million chlorine tablets to purify water until the end of this wear but we do not have that,” a health minister official said.

Last week the World Health Organisation released data on the cholera outbreak in Iraq. After it first appeared in Kirkuk on August 14, the virus spread to 9 of the country’s 18 provinces with a total 3,315 recorded cases of vibrio cholerae and more than 30,000 cases of acute dysentery

The death rate is low, only 14 for now. Although the outbreak spread to Kirkuk and Sulaymaniah, it has remained stable in Basra, Baghdad, Dahuk, Mosul and Tikrit.

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Clare Swinney

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