GCC worries over Iraq cholera outbreak
London - A number of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have been working to neutralise a cholera outbreak, with international health organisations warning of a region-wide epidemic if the threat is not addressed.
The latest outbreak, which originated in Iraq, has confirmed cases reported in Kuwait and Bahrain and Oman.
“It (the outbreak) already has a regional dynamic and the risk of that can only be increased by people from all over the region coming into Iraq,” UNICEF country director Peter Hawkins told Reuters on November 5th.
In October, after the diagnoses of the first Bahrain national infected with the disease, the kingdom’s Health Ministry put hospitals on cholera alert.
According to the Bahraini Ministry of Health, seven individuals were infected with cholera. Initially authorities quarantined 55 people arriving from Iraq and suspected of carrying the disease. Subsequent testing revealed that only seven had the disease and all have since recovered, health officials said.
The Kuwaiti Health Ministry denied rumours of a cholera outbreak but did confirm that five cases, all originating in Iraq, were treated in October. Kuwaiti assistant undersecretary of Public Health Affairs advised Kuwaiti nationals, especially pregnant women, children and those suffering from poor health, to avoid travelling to Iraq.
In Oman, health officials issued a general warning after an Omani woman was diagnosed with the disease after having recently visited Iraq.
“The patient who was contracted with cholera is receiving the medical care in one of the health institutions in the sultanate. According to the medical reports, the condition of the patient is stable and improving,” a Ministry of Health statement said, while urging citizens to follow strict hygiene guidelines.
Health ministries in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, however, issued statements reassuring citizens that both countries are cholera-free.
The cases confirmed in the GCC were all individuals who were in Iraq before symptoms ensued. This, coupled with the fact that millions of Shia Muslims are set to embark on a religious pilgrimage to Iraq in December, sparked fears of a full-blown epidemic.
“The nature of cholera is such that it doesn’t necessarily respect international borders,” UNICEF spokesman Karim el-Korany told The Arab Weekly.
According to Korany, Iraq is a cholera endemic country, which means there are intervals in which outbreaks occur. Previous outbreaks were in 2012 and 2009.
Korany said there are a number of factors contributing to the state of affairs in Iraq. Continuing violence across the country has hindered international organisations, such as UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), from reaching large areas of the country and is an aggravating factor that allows the disease to spread.
Another factor is the seasonal flooding, which is overwhelming sewage and water infrastructure.
“So, with the continuing violence and the seasonal flooding, these are additional aggravating factors and so the risk of cholera spreading inside of Iraq is very high and we are quite concerned,” he added.
With regards to efforts in countering the cholera scare, UNICEF is working with the WHO under the leadership of the government to stem the disease. That includes a vaccination drive across Iraq and an awareness campaign designed to educate Iraqi communities on treatment and prevention.
“We are also working around the clock to distribute portable clean water in the form of bottled water and trucks that distribute community water tanks in the context of refugee or displacement camps,” Korany added.