WHO health briefing on Iraq

UN humanitarian briefing
26 May 2003

WHO continues to work hard, supporting efforts to jump start the health system in Iraq. This involves finding urgently needed resources to keep hospitals and health centres running, to pay for essential maintenance, cleaning, food for patients and other basic but indispensable costs. It also involves efforts to revive the wider health infrastructure, such as the system for distributing medicines around the country, run by the state drug distribution company, Kimadia.

Distribution of medicines

The distribution system has not functioned since the recent conflict began, due to a number of obvious limitations on transport, coordination and communications. After Coalition forces had entered the key towns, there was a power vacuum. Looting and related civil unrest caused widespread damage to many of the warehouses and other facilities crucial to the system. As a result, some areas - including parts of Baghdad - are running short of medicines despite the fact that some of these medicines are available in nearby warehouses. Although we now know more about these needs, we cannot yet guarantee that deliveries will arrive safely at their destination.

In order to jump start the distribution system, there is an urgent need for security, full inventories, better organization of the warehouses and a system for planning the allocation of drugs to governorates and to individual health facilities. Following discussions with the United States-run Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA), agreement has been reached on several of these issues. ORHA will provide constant security to the main warehouses and to distribution convoys travelling through Iraq, as well as paying the salaries of workers and repairing damaged cold storage facilities. WHO has supplied and installed computers and related equipment in the central Al-Dabash warehouse to enable the restarting of the "Micro Drug" system for managing drug supplies and deliveries. WHO will also provide incentives to workers, funds for transportation and further assistance to manage the information database.

Establishing a full inventory of all stocks in this and other warehouses is the next urgent task. Requests for medicines are already coming in and it is hoped that deliveries will be able to resume towards the end of this week.


For more information, please contact Fadela Chaib, WHO Spokesperson in Basra (008833330739, satellite phone), e-mail: chaibf@who.int; or Iain Simpson in Geneva (00 4179 475 5534), e-mail: simpsoni@who.int

The following WHO specialists are available to respond to media questions: Dr Mohamed Jama, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, Cairo (+202 276 5026 ); Dr David Nabarro, WHO Executive Director, Geneva (+41 22 791 2363, +41 79 217 3446).

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