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UNICEF helps to combat cholera outbreak in Iraq

2,000 potential cases, fears high that outbreak could spread

AMMAN/ERBIL, 29 August 2007 – UNICEF has rushed emergency aid to help victims of a cholera outbreak in Suleimaniya and Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

Local authorities report that over 2000 people have been affected so far by the outbreak, with five deaths reported and approximately 500 patients admitted to hospital with severe diarrhoea within the last two days alone. 47 cases have been confirmed as epidemic cholera, but this number is expected to grow. Although the outbreak is largely affecting adults, children are at extremely high risk.
To help hospitals in Suleimaniya and Kirkuk treat the overwhelming number of victims, UNICEF has delivered 4,000 cannulae and needles and 15,000 sachets of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS). ORS is critical to prevent death from the dehydration caused by severe diarrhoea. And 4,000 safe water kits are being delivered today to families in the Suleimaniya area, where significant numbers of displaced people are also at risk.

UNICEF’s team is also helping health officials and other Agencies assisting in the response to run a comprehensive monitoring and community awareness programme to better detect cases and help families stay away from contaminated water, the likely source of the outbreak. To help health officials contain the disease, UNICEF is supporting additional training in the management and treatment of severe diarrhoea.

UNICEF is closely coordinating its response with the local authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO), which is leading the UN response.

Serious problems with water quality and sewage treatment are being blamed for the outbreak. Local reports indicate that only 30 per cent of the population in Suleimaniya has an adequate water supply. Mains water is only available for two hours per day at the most in the main city quarters and suburbs. A water quality report from Suleimaniya from July showed that only 50 per cent of the water inside the city was chlorinated. Many people have been reduced to digging shallow wells outside their own homes.

If the epidemic spreads, there will be an urgent need for additional support – including delivery of additional ORS with zinc to prevent dehydration, water purification tablets, short-term water tankering and hygiene promotion campaigns.

Meanwhile, UNICEF is appealing to families in the affected areas to make particularly sure that children are kept away from areas contaminated with raw sewage, always wash their hands with soap and only drink water that has been purified or boiled.

About UNICEF in Iraq: UNICEF has been on the ground in Iraq since 1983, working to bring Iraqi women and children the essentials of a better life. Today UNICEF’s programmes are helping to improve basic health services, safeguard a quality education, rebuild water and sanitation systems and protect children from abuse, violence and exploitation. Every day, UNICEF’s national network of staff and partners provides vital humanitarian assistance to families in crisis and support reconstruction and recovery efforts. Even in the most challenging conditions, Iraq’s children can still count on UNICEF to deliver for them.

For further information please contact:
Claire Hajaj, UNICEF Iraq, +962 7969 26190, chajaj@unicef.org
Ban Dhayi, UNICEF Iraq, +962 7965 05008, bdhayi@unicef.org
Patrick McCormick, UNICIEF Media, 212 326 7426 e-mail: pmccormick@unicef.org




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