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Cholera in Iraq

8th September 2008

A water shortage in Iraq has forced people to drink from unsafe sources, leading to a fresh cholera outbreak in the capital, health officials said.

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The war-torn country saw more than 4,000 cases of cholera last year.

With cholera infection, victims can die of sudden severe diarrhoea.

General Director of Public Health Ihsan Jaafar said as long as there was scarcity of water, cholera would remain a problem.

In the southern province of Maysan, one boy died. A further five infections were confirmed from the Abu Ghraib district of western Baghdad and one from Rusafa in the east of the city.

Twenty-four people died in last year's outbreak, which was mostly in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported thousands of cases of diarrhoea in Iraq last year, of which many were confirmed as cholera.

In its most severe form, cholera is characterised by a sudden onset of acute watery diarrhoea that can cause death by severe dehydration and kidney failure within hours.

Years of war and neglect in Iraq have left the country's water and sewage treatment infrastructure in ruins.

The government was trying to achieve earlier diagnosis. It was also distributing water purification tablets and educating the public, it said.

Last year, health experts set up a National Committee on Cholera Preparedness and Outbreak Response in Iraq, and provincial health authorities of Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk and Erbil initiated a number of public health control measures to contain the outbreak, including risk assessment, improving water safety and sanitation, strengthening the surveillance system for diarrhoeal disease, and improving the flow of information.

All public water supply systems in the worst-hit districts were chlorinated by provincial authorities last year, but the problem is a perennial one, experts say.

In addition, water samples from the public water supply sources are being collected and tested routinely to ensure they meet potable water safety standards.


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