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Millions at risk of exposure to cholera in northern Iraq, UN health agency warns

Millions at risk of exposure to cholera in northern Iraq, UN health agency warns

More than 7,000 cases of acute diarrhoea have so far been reported in the cholera epidemic in northern Iraq, putting over 2.8 million people at risk from exposure to the infectious and sometimes fatal disease, according to the United Nations health agency.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is taking emergency measures to help the Kurdistan authorities in Sulemaniya, Kirkuk and Erbil provinces contain the epidemic. Ten people are so far reported to have died.

“We still need different materials to control this pandemic such as drugs and medical supplies, diagnostic and enteric disease bacteriology kits, water testing kits, awareness and communications tools and equipment,” WHO Technical officer Omer Mekki said. “We are doing our best effort to lead the UN emergency aid in north Iraq.”

All evidence suggests that transmission is still circulating. It is unclear what caused the outbreak, but initial investigation show some evidence that, in Sulemaniya, polluted water that residents were forced to rely on due to a shortage of drinking water may have been to blame. In Kirkuk, cracked water pipes allowed contamination by sewage, and because of the close geographic proximity the outbreak spread to Erbil, Dr. Mekki said.

WHO is providing technical assistance to the health authorities for risk assessment, strengthening surveillance system and improving coordination through a multi-sectoral operations room in health, water and environment in the provincial ministry of health.

The agency has also helped in standardizing case management, mobilizing medical and other essential supplies as well as in organizing social mobilization and health education campaigns where more than 10,000 posters distributed.

The continuous movement of people and cargo, bad sanitary conditions and high temperatures may increase the possibility of spreading the disease rapidly to other areas such as Baghdad and the central provinces, Dr. Al- Gasseer warned.

The WHO-Iraq office has ordered 10 emergency diarrhoea disease kits to pre-position adequate quantities of essential drugs as well as other medical and laboratory supplies in all hospitals and health centres. In addition, two truck loads of intravenous fluids and antibiotics are to be sent Erbil.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It causes watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. About 80 to 90 per cent of cases are mild or moderate and are difficult to distinguish clinically from other types of acute diarrhoea. Less than 20 per cent of ill people develop typical cholera with signs of moderate or severe dehydration.