WHO health briefing on Iraq

UN humanitarian briefing
22 April 2003

Health Facilities Assessment in Baghdad, Tikrit and Mosul show situation improving but still tense

Each day, WHO national staff assess the health situation in communities around Iraq – to determine the most urgent needs and arrange that these be filled. This is a crucial part of WHO’s work to kick start the health system in the country. The most recent assessments include further work in Baghdad and Mosul, with a new report from Tikrit.


WHO is supporting the coordination of the health sector, and three teams are conducting health facilities assessments around the city.

WHO is working to reestablish the Baghdad health sector coordination group, which includes NGOs working in the city. Coordination is essential in order to ensure the correct medical supplies and other equipment are sent to the right hospitals and health centres, as they have varying needs depending on the levels of damage or looting.

WHO is urgently working to arrange the delivery from Jordan to Baghdad of basic Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS kits to the Baghdad blood bank, and of oxygen cylinders and external fixation sets to the area’s hospitals. These supplies will be sent through as soon as security allows.

Overall, the WHO Baghdad office is operational, with staff working in a temporary office with communications and computer equipment. This temporary office will be used until WHO can establish a permanent office, as the previous office was completely damaged and looted. WHO has managed to recover two of its vehicles, which had been taken, and will continue to work to recover other vehicles around the city.


WHO staff, together with the Director-General of Health in Mosul, were able to travel to Tikrit yesterday for the first time. Due to many checkpoints and unexploded ordnance along the route, the normal one-hour trip took four hours.

In Tikrit, the situation is still tense and security is unstable. Security checks make it difficult for staff to travel, and only about 20% are able to report for work.

The illness reporting system is not functioning as usual, the DG of Health and his staff believe that the general health condition is normal with no increase in communicable or infectious diseases. The city’s drug stores, blood bank, and TB centre are all intact.

However, there has been some damage and lost stocks due to looting. The offices of the Directorate of Health and the Primary Health Care department have been destroyed. All vaccine stocks in the Governorate appear to have been damaged. The lack of oxygen cylinders for hospitals has been a recurrent problem in this conflict; in Tikrit Governorate, there is an oxygen plant in Samarraa that can provide oxygen for all health facilities, however funds are neeeded to pay for this.

Electricity was turned on for the first time on 21 April after having not worked for 10 days. While the city’s two water plants were working - although there were many breaks in the network during the conflict - the city’s sewage disposal system, on which 70% of the population depend, was still not functioning. Fuel for hospital generators was reported readily available, while there was estimated to be a one month’s supply of food stocks for hospital patients. Ambulance services had ceased as all vehicles had been stolen.


From Mosul, WHO reports that the Directorate of Health (DoH) with its extensive administrative offices was severely looted and all its vehicles stolen. The same is true for the Primary Health Care department and the environmental sanitation directorate. The Governorate’s TB Centre was also severely damaged, while one of the two buildings of the State Company for Marketing Drugs and Medical Appliances was also damaged.

Almost all hospitals in the Governorate are reported to have suffered little or no damage.

The water purification system appeared to be undamaged, but electricity was still a problem: the national grid is operating for only 10-12 hours per day. Electricity for hospitals is provided by local generators, some of which are old and polluting. Sewage treatment plants for hospitals are operating at less-than-full capacity.

WHO is working to help hospital facilities and health centres operate and serve the population in the city.

For further information, please contact WHO spokespersons Fadela Chaib in Amman (00 4179 475 5556) or Christine McNab in Geneva (00 41 79 254 6815)

The following WHO specialists are available to respond to media questions: Dr Ghulam 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)