WHO health briefing on Iraq

10 April 2003


The World Health Organization has received disturbing reports from Baghdad that the ability of hospitals and hospital staff to do their work is being severely curtailed by the lack of civil order in the city. The Medical City hospital centre is reported to be running very short of water, which makes it almost impossible for the hospital to offer effective medical care to the people who need it. Another hospital (Al Kindi) is reported to have been looted. This is another one of the main hospitals in Baghdad and is where many injured civilians have been taken since the conflict began.

WHO is extremely concerned that the apparent lack of law and order in Baghdad will have a very serious impact on health and healthcare in the Iraqi capital. Hospital staff are reported to be reluctant to leave their homes and travel to work for fear of becoming held up by demonstrations, looting, or celebrations. Surgical and medical supplies from central warehouses are not getting to hospitals when their own stocks run out. There have been no new deliveries of medicines or medical supplies from outside the country since before the conflict began three weeks ago. The city's already fragile water and electricity infrastructure is coming under extreme pressure and standby generators are being overworked.

The situation for the chronically ill is also deteriorating. Many people who need regular medication or hospital treatment are unable or unwilling to leave their homes and travel to clinics or hospitals. Insulin-dependent diabetics, those who need treatment for cancer, patients with kidney failure and many others who depend on medical treatment to keep alive and well are being deprived of access to these treatments.

WHO is ready to deliver urgently needed surgical and medical supplies into Baghdad. However, this can only be done once the security situation improves and once secure delivery can be ensured. WHO is also working hard to return international staff to Baghdad and the rest of Iraq once it is safe to do so.

Outside Baghdad

Once again, WHO draws attention to the lack of information coming from the rest of central and southern Iraq. The sporadic reports that are coming from Basra, Nasiriya and elsewhere raise some very serious concerns about civil order and the state of hospitals and healthcare. It is vitally important that humanitarian agencies are able to travel to cities, towns and villages affected by the conflict in order to make an assessment of the health and other needs of the Iraqi people.

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)