WHO health briefing on Iraq

UN Humanitarian briefing
21 April 2003

Health Assessment from Nassiriyah

The World Health Organization continues to coordinate, conduct and analyse health assessments. So far, these have been collected from more than 50 communities in Iraq. Each assessment helps give a clearer picture as to the specific health needs in each community.

On 19 April, the first UN team conducted an inter-sectoral needs assessment in Nassiriya. The main findings for the health sector are mixed. Of special concern is an acute shortage of water, both in the community and in the health facilities. Without water, maintaining hygiene becomes difficult, as does ensuring people get enough water to drink. Food supplies are also running low, and may last only until mid-May. Local prices have increased five-fold.

Overall, electricity, water and re-stocking drugs for chronic diseases are reported as the most urgent priorities. Due to lack of water and difficulty with sanitation, the risks of outbreaks of diarrhea diseases remain high. There is also a growing risk of outbreaks of other communicable diseases, as people are weakened and more vulnerable to illness due to lack of food, and hygiene deteriorates due to lack of water.

However, considering that Nassiriyah was very affected during the war, the health sector continued to operate very well even at the peak of the conflict. Health staff ensured basic health care was maintained throughout the period, illustrating the dedication of staff to maintaining health services for the Iraqi people.

In Nassiriyah, hospital staff took extraordinary measures to protect hospital records and equipment from damage or looting. As security deteriorated, the staff brought files and essential equipment including computers home to keep them safe. As soon as security allowed, they brought everything back to their workplaces – ensuring the health system continued to function under extremely trying circumstances.

Health sector staff remain fully committed to public health work despite challenges

Despite the difficult circumstances, the health and health support workers in Iraq continue their commitment to support the public health system.

Overall, the social and working conditions in many communities in Iraq, including Baghdad are extremely challenging. The public transportation system is not functioning. Basics such as electricity and water are in short supply in many places. The security situation is unstable, making movement difficult and even dangerous. Food is not always available. And due to looting and dwindling stocks, health workers must cope without the very basics - oxygen cylinders, surgical instruments and anesthetics.

The World Health Organization continues to be extremely impressed by the level of dedication the Iraqi health staff bring to their work even in these circumstances.

In Baghdad, surgical staff who can’t work in their own hospitals because they have been looted or damaged, are traveling to hospitals which are functioning to carry out essential surgeries there.

A lone truck driver, bringing a WHO load of medical supplies from Amman to Baghdad heard reports that Baghdad was not secure. As a result he drove the supplies- 13 metric tones of surgical items, medicines for communicable diseases, trauma and other urgent drugs to his own village in order to keep them safe. As soon as security allowed, he was back on the road to Baghdad. The supplies have now arrived and are stored in the Ministry of Health main warehouse in Baghdad, and will be distributed to hospitals and health centers around the city.

This level of dedication to public health by the doctors, nurses, support staff including cleaners, cooks, maintenance workers and drivers is saving and protecting people’s lives in Iraq.

For more information, please contact Fadela Chaib, WHO Spokesperson in Amman. Tel: 0041 79 475 55 56; 079 52 15774; E-mail: chaibf@who.int More information about WHO and Iraq can be found on the WHO web site: www.who.int