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Rising violence in Iraq could overwhelm health services, UN agency warns

Rising violence in Iraq could overwhelm health services, UN agency warns

Escalating violence and widespread insecurity, combined with a worsening shortage of health workers, is putting severe pressure on the health of the Iraqi population, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today, voicing concern that services within and outside the country will not be able to cope with the millions of people who have been forced to leave their homes.

“WHO will continue to support Iraq and help the countries in the region strengthen their existing health services to meet people’s needs,” said Dr. Hussein Gezairy, who heads the agency’s Eastern Mediterranean Region.

The government estimates that almost 70 per cent of critically injured patients with violence-related wounds die while in the Emergency and Intensive Care Units due to a shortage of competent staff and a lack of drugs and equipment, WHO said in a news release published in conjunction with a conference in Geneva being organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to address the needs of the nearly 4 million uprooted Iraqis.

In Iraq, 80 per cent of people lack effective sanitation, 70 per cent lack access to regular clean water, and only 60 per cent have access to the public food distribution system, according to WHO, which has 77 country officers in Iraq, backed by the agency’s international technical teams.

Diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, worsened by increased levels of malnutrition, account for about two thirds of deaths among children under five, while the chronic child malnutrition rate is estimated at 21 per cent, according to the findings of a survey conducted last year by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

At the Geneva conference today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged the UN’s continued efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqis, while stressing that a long-term solution is necessary. “Only a secure, politically stable and economically prosperous Iraq can reverse the tide of displacement. And only through assistance from the international community in this difficult period can Iraq fulfil its enormous human and economic potential,” he said via video message.