Successful and timely efforts against killer disease in Iraq to be sustained in 2016, UNICEF says

23 February 2016

BAGHDAD, Iraq, 23 February 2016 – In 2015, a rapid response by government and humanitarian partners in Iraq successfully contained a deadly cholera outbreak, which quickly spread from districts around Baghdad to areas across the country culminating in nearly 3,000 confirmed cases. Efforts continue relentlessly in 2016, to avoid future possible outbreaks.

“The latest cholera outbreak in Iraq was a painful symptom of the living conditions of many conflict affected Iraqis"

UNICEF and WHO, along with government, humanitarian and donor partners such as the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), acted immediately upon declaration of the cholera outbreak by the Iraqi Ministry of Health on 9 September 2015. The initial response included provision of safe drinking water and disinfecting of existing water supplies, targeting over 90,000 people in the hardest hit communities. UNICEF provided 100 schools in high risk areas with reverse-osmosis filtering systems so that over 500,000 children could resume classes suspended by authorities during the first weeks of the outbreak.

“The latest cholera outbreak in Iraq was a painful symptom of the living conditions of many conflict affected Iraqis. Immediate funding for water and sanitation improvements and hygiene promotion was crucial to contain the spread of the disease; The European Commission, then, promptly mobilized substantial resources to respond to this health emergency”, said Javier Rio-Navarro, Head of Office of the Commission's humanitarian aid department in Iraq.

“Cholera is a preventable disease if families are afforded good sanitation and hygiene conditions, safe drinking water, and information necessary to recognize symptoms early,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Iraq. “This was the focus of UNICEF and partners in 2015 and this must be our focus in the New Year.”

With generous additional funding from the European Commission, UNICEF, government counterparts and partners are working now to support the preparedness, resilience and infrastructure of communities and schools in high risk areas.

Following on a critical contribution in 2015 to fight the initial outbreak, EU funding will support efforts to prepare for a potential second wave of cases in 2016. UNICEF and partners will work to empower communities with information to prevent, detect and treat cholera; ensure access to safe drinking water, particularly in schools; and carry out water infrastructure repair projects in high-risk areas and schools.

Cholera has been an endemic disease in many parts of Iraq since 1966. Over the last fifteen years, major outbreaks have occurred every two to three years on average for a duration of several months, with a second wave of cases often reported in the following year.

For more information please contact:
Jeffrey Bates, UNICEF Iraq, jbates@unicef.org, +964 7801964524
Karim Elkorany, UNICEF Iraq, kelkorany@unicef.org, +964 780 925 8542

Media contacts

Juliette Touma
Regional Chief of Advocacy and Communications
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962798674628

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About the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO)

The European Commission funds relief operations for victims of natural disasters and conflicts around the world. The Commission’s humanitarian assistance is based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. For more information visit: http://ec.europa.eu/echo/index_en.htm