WHO health briefing on Iraq

UN humanitarian briefing
11 April 2003

Security and Health

Without civil order, it is virtually impossible for hospitals to function effectively. The current situation being reported from Baghdad, Basra, Zubair, Kirkuk, Mosul and other towns across Iraq is extremely alarming. The World Health Organization urges the military forces and the remaining civilian authorities to act quickly to restore law and order and to ensure the safety of hospitals and hospital staff. WHO also calls on the civilian population to do everything they can to protect hospitals and medical staff. Those in authority must also do whatever is necessary to restore water and electricity supplies to the cities and towns to prevent further deterioration of the infrastructure and minimise the risk of outbreaks of disease.

Looting of hospitals and medical supplies is totally unacceptable and must be prevented. Without medicines and other supplies, doctors and nurses cannot treat either injured people or those who need ongoing medical care. Those with chronic illnesses such as cancer and pregnant women have a particularly urgent need for continuing treatment and care. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that Al Kindi hospital in Baghdad has been completely emptied by looters. Even the beds are reported to have been stolen.

It is reported from Basra that after one incident of looting from a hospital, a tank was parked in front of the hospital to prevent any repetition. This helped to protect medical supplies. It is equally important that the safety and security of medical staff are ensured. WHO has received reports of doctors and nurses staying at home to look after their families rather than reporting to work. This is understandable in the current circumstances. However, it is obvious that without medical staff, hospitals cannot function. Therefore, security must be re-established so that people feel it is safe to leave their homes and go to work.

ICRC staff have also been unable to carry out their vital work of distributing water and medicines to the hospitals in Baghdad because of the total lack of law and order in the city. Shortages of medicines and supplies are reported from Baghdad, as well as from Najaf and Karbala.


A truck containing some 13 metric tonnes of WHO medicines and medical supplies left Jordan for Baghdad on Tuesday morning. By the time the driver reached Baghdad, the situation there was changing rapidly and the government had apparently lost control of the city. WHO is now working with national staff and other partners in the Iraqi capital to ensure that the supplies are secured and available for delivery to the hospitals where they are needed as soon as it is safe to do so. Once this supply chain is shown to work, more urgently needed supplies will be made available.

For further information, please contact WHO spokespersons Fadela Chaib in Amman (00 4179 475 5556) or Iain Simpson in Geneva (00 4179 475 5534)

The following WHO specialists are available to respond to media questions: Dr G Popal, Head of the WHO country office in Iraq (+962 795 7092); Dr Mohamed Jama, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, Cairo (+202 276 5026 ); Dr Jim Tulloch, WHO Regional Health Coordinator, (+4179 509 0640); Dr David Nabarro, WHO Executive Director, Geneva (+41 22 791 2363, +41 79 217 3446)

More informaton on Iraq