WHO health briefing on Iraq

UN humanitarian briefing
15 April 2003

Hospitals update

The World Health Organization has taken part in new assessments of the health situation in northern and southern Iraq. WHO joined the first humanitarian assessment team to travel to Az Zubair and Safwan, close to Basra in the south. The WHO team in Kirkuk has also further investigated the health situation in that town. The International Committee of the Red Cross has also made assessment visits to most of the major hospitals in Baghdad.

It is clear from all this information that severe and disturbing problems exist in many parts of Iraq. The most urgent health issues are the lack of security for health staff, patients and supplies; shortage of clean water and electricity; shortage of money to meet the costs of running hospitals, as well as the expenses of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff; and shortages or impending shortages of particular medicines and other medical supplies.

There is also a continuing high risk of outbreaks of diarrhoeal disease due to a combination of the lack of clean, safe water, rising temperatures, and severe problems in the sanitation system due in part to the lack of electricity. This risk was underlined by health staff working in both Az Zubair and Safwan. There are also reports that at least one area of Baghdad has been partially flooded by waste water, with the potential to cause increased levels of illness.


WHO is continuing to work intensively through the Health Sector Coordination Group with international and non-governmental organisations to coordinate work to rehabilitate the Iraqi health system. It is vitally important that all work across the health sector is well coordinated, otherwise there is a risk that different organisations will send duplicate or inappropriate supplies, that staff needs will not be properly assessed and that the health of the Iraqi people will not be given the priority it deserves.

The first step in this coordination work is systematic assessments of need in order to prioritise responses. This is being done with increasing urgency as the security situation allows. Information from these assessments - carried out by WHO, the ICRC, other UN agencies and NGOs - is then shared and analysed.

WHO and its partners in the Health Sector Coordination Group have agreed on a process to coordinate the purchase and delivery of supplies; to coordinate the movement of convoys to Baghdad and to other parts of Iraq; and to provide advice based on the essential drug list of Iraq as a reference for procurement.

It is particularly important that drug donations and other offers of assistance are properly prioritised, and that supply provision is co-ordinated. There is no benefit to Iraq - and possibly harm - if unnecessary or inappropriate supplies are sent to neighbouring countries or to Iraq itself. The needs are great and are becoming increasingly clear. Medicines and other supplies sent to Iraq must be designed to respond to urgent priorities, and these must be met before any further supplies are sent.

For further information, please contact WHO spokespersons Melanie Zipperer in Amman (00 4179 477 1722) 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)