Iraqi cholera outbreak spreads to Baghdad

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An outbreak of cholera in Iraq, which has so far infected 1,500 people, has now reached Baghdad, the World Health Organisation reported yesterday.

The disease was first reported in the northern Kurdish areas of the country and specialist teams were dispatched in an effort to keep the situation contained. The revelation that cholera has now spread to the Iraqi capital, with its vast population of internally displaced refugees and crumbling water and sewage system offering scope for rther proliferation, is a matter of great worry, say health officials.

Fadela Chaib, a spokeswoman for the WHO, said: "The first case of cholera confirmed in Baghdad was two days ago. A 25-year-old woman had contracted the disease. For the time being we have only one case. It is likely others will be identified. The most important thing for Baghdad, even if it is difficult, is to strengthen the disease surveillance system, to be able to identify all the suspected cases and to know what we need in terms of oral rehydration salts, intravenous fluids and antibiotics so we can be ready when we see more cases."

Dr Ali Jassem Mohammed, an Iraqi public health specialist, said: "There are now about six million people living in Baghdad. Many have fled the city and the country because of the violence, but others have come in for surrounding areas. Many of them have very poor standard of living and of hygiene, so we are facing a highly risky situation."

The current outbreak of cholera, characterised in its most severe form by acute diarrhoea that can cause severe dehydration and kidney failure, resulting in death, was first diagnosed last month. The provinces of Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk and Arbil were the most affected, and the death toll in the region to date is ten.

The WHO said it was working with the Iraqi government to avert an epidemic.

A report by Oxfam and the NGO Co-Ordination Committee In Iraq (NCCI) warned recently that 70 per cent of Iraq's population did not have adequate water supplies and only 20 per cent had access to effective sanitation.