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UN relief agencies laud dedication of Iraqi health workers

UN relief agencies laud dedication of Iraqi health workers

United Nations relief agencies today praised the Iraqi doctors, nurses and support staff who have kept services running despite the destruction and looting, but they also underscored the enormity of the tasks ahead in repairing the national infrastructure and feeding the population.

The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to be extremely impressed by the level of dedication the Iraqi health staff bring to their work even in these circumstances, spokesperson Fadela Chaib told the daily briefing in Amman, Jordan, on UN humanitarian activities. This level of dedication by doctors, nurses, support staff including cleaners, cooks, maintenance workers and drivers was saving lives, she added.

She said social and working conditions in many areas, including Baghdad, were extremely challenging. Public transportation was not functioning, basics such as electricity and water were in short supply, and security was unstable, making movement difficult and even dangerous. Food was not always available, and due to looting and dwindling stocks, health workers had to cope without the very basics – oxygen cylinders, surgical instruments and anaesthetics.

But despite all this, they continued their commitment to support the public health system, Ms. Chaib said. In Baghdad, surgical staff who could not work in their own hospitals because they had been looted or damaged, travelled to other hospitals to carry out essential surgeries there.

Based on an UN inter-sectoral assessment, Ms. Chaib cited the acute shortage of water in Nassiriyah in the south, both in the community and in the health facilities, as of special concern. Electricity, water and re-stocking drugs for chronic diseases were reported as the most urgent priorities. Due to lack of water and difficulty with sanitation, the risk of diarrhoea remained high.

But considering that Nassiriyah was badly affected during the war, the health sector continued to operate very well even at the peak of the conflict, she added. Health staff ensured basic care was maintained throughout the period, illustrating the dedication of staff to maintaining services for the Iraqi people.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said the arrival of its first convoy in Baghdad yesterday afternoon highlighted the complexity of the operation. A trip that should take only two days took four due to the lack of security and the need to prepare a secured warehouse in the city. The convoy had 1,400 tons of food, enough for half the population of Baghdad for just one day.

“In a very short time we will need to send more than six times this quantity every day from Jordan,” spokesman Khaled Mansour said. To reach the target of having enough food for 27 million Iraqis as of May, more warehouses needed to be secured, more mills and silos needed to be functioning, thus requiring a regular supply of water, electricity and the return of the skilled staff of the Ministry of Trade, he added.

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said there had been a huge increase in child diarrhoeal cases in Baghdad, where some hospitals experienced shortages of water, anti-diarrhoeal drugs and injectable and oral antibiotics.

The UN High Commissioner for the Refugees (UNHCR) said another 100 people had reached the border with Jordan, bringing the total in a makeshift frontier encampment to more than 1,050. The agency again called on the occupying powers to ensure security for civilians inside Iraq and the equitable distribution of aid.