WHO health briefing on Iraq

UN humanitarian briefing
8 April 2003


The World Health Organization continues to be seriously concerned about the level of civilian casualties in Baghdad and the impact this is having on hospitals. Reports from the Iraqi capital say that hospitals and hospital staff are being overwhelmed by the number of casualties being brought in for treatment. This is putting huge pressure on both medical supplies and medical staff, who are working round the clock to provide emergency treatment. There are reports that some hospitals are beginning to run short of crucial surgical and medical supplies. Before this conflict began, WHO said that there were sufficient supplies in Iraq in the short term for normal medical needs. The current situation is anything but normal. Therefore, hospitals are running short of emergency supplies, including antibiotics and anaesthetics. The hospitals are not receiving regular supplies, and no supplies can currently be sent in from outside the country.

WHO has a truckload of emergency surgical and medical supplies in Jordan waiting to cross the border into Iraq and travel to Baghdad. Up til now, the security situation has not allowed the truck or the vital supplies it carries to travel to Baghdad. However, WHO hopes this will very soon become possible. WHO has eight trauma kits which are vital for surgical operations. The kits contain medication to treat 800 people - including painkilling medicines. Furthermore WHO has 23 water testing kits in storage in Jordan and ready for delivery. Access to clean water is currently limited in some areas and the quality of water has to be controlled to avoid outbreaks of cholera and other diarrhoeal and water borne diseases. WHO has also prepositioned several laboratory diagnostic tests to diagnose diarrheal diseases. A total of 38 WHO New Emergency Health Kits are also in Amman, ready to be shipped to Iraq. An Emergency Health Kit contains one ton of essential drugs, supplies and instruments, sufficient to support the basic health needs of 10 000 people for up to three months.

Delivery of all supplies is contingent on the security situation. The issue of negotiated access for humanitarian work is very urgent and WHO considers the speeding up of the delivery of medical supplies as essential in order to build up badly needed emergency stocks.

People who have been injured in the conflict clearly must receive priority medical treatment. However, their overwhelming needs mean that there are fewer resources and fewer staff to tend to the needs of the chronically ill, those who require regular medical treatment: insulin-dependent diabetics, cancer patients and those requiring kidney dialysis and other routine but life-saving treatments.

Measles outbreak in the district of Suleymaniah

On Friday we reported on a measles outbreak close to Suleymaniah that was reported among children aged 6-15 years. On Monday, the team found 8 more children with measles, one of whom is less than five years old; the others are between 7 and 18 years old. Measles is a highly infectious disease and is one of the three main causes of the high levels of respiratory illness and infant mortality rate in Iraq. WHO is working with UNICEF to vaccinate children in the surrounding villages to prevent a major outbreak.

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)