Nearly 1,000 cholera cases in Iraq
AMMAN - Deteriorating public services for health, water and sanitation may allow the further spread of cholera and other infectious diseases in war-stricken Iraq, especially in crowded areas where millions are displaced by sectarian conflicts and violence by the militant Islamic State (ISIS).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that measles has been reported in all of Iraq’s 18 governorates. Cholera is endemic and leishmaniasis is on the rise.
Particularly worrying is how militants will deal with cholera cases in areas under their control. They have little means to tackle the problem as they do not have enough doctors and medical supplies.
In the remainder of the country, where an estimated 7 million out of a population of nearly 34 million are displaced, unhygienic conditions make fertile ground for the rapid spread of disease.
Nearly 1,000 cases of cholera have been reported across the country, including in ISIS-controlled areas. More than 40 people have died of the highly infectious disease.
The situation is a recurrence of outbreaks in 2007 and 2012. However, this outbreak is different considering that ISIS may simply turn its back on those stricken in its areas to avoid being seen as unable to handle an emergency heath disaster.
Aware of the risks, the Iraqi government has allocated more than $8 million to fight cholera and launched a nationwide vaccination campaign. A state-run emergency committee is mapping out plans to isolate areas where cholera cases are suspected.
“It’s not out of control yet but the outbreak is certainly alarming and the recurrence of the epidemic underlines the failure of the state’s health care system,” said Yehya al- Qubeisi, an adviser to the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies, a think-tank.
However, Qubeisi insisted in an interview with The Arab Weekly that he did not expect an increased wave of refugees from Iraq due to the disease.
“Generally, people aren’t as worried by the disease as much as for protecting their lives against Daesh’s violence,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan cited reasons that may contribute to spreading the disease, including that nearly half of the health professionals have fled some areas.
Another factor is the state of Iraqi health facilities, which are overloaded and where medicine and supplies are running short. In four of the areas severely affected by cholera, 14 hospitals and more than 160 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed, Chan said.
That was a reference to sectarianism between the country’s minority Sunni Muslims and the rival Shia, a majority of the population who dominate the government.