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Old 05-09-2003, 02:52 PM   #1
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Cholera problem in Iraq

WHO: Iraq faces cholera crisis
Thursday, May 8, 2003 Posted: 1812 GMT ( 2:12 AM HKT)

BASRA, Iraq -- Mounting piles of waste and sewage and contaminated water supplies have led to southern Iraq's first cases of cholera -- raising concerns of a potentially devastating outbreak.

The World Health Organization has confirmed four people had contracted cholera in Basra, and the group says dozens more may have the potentially fatal illness.

No deaths have been reported so far but health officials said they feared the problem is already reaching epidemic proportions.

The lack of clean water, lack of security, and economic troubles are allowing it to spread rapidly, WHO spokesman Ian Simpson said Thursday.

"Cholera has a fatality rate of more than 50 percent if it is not treated," he said. "This is probably the most serious health concern in Iraq right now."

About 50 samples have been sent to a laboratory in Kuwait for testing.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine. In severe cases, it can lead to dehydration and shock, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The illness can easily be prevented and treated, but conditions in Basra make it difficult to do either.

"If we're seeing 17 confirmed cases, you can expect 10 times more within the larger population," Dr. Denis Coulombier, an epidemiologist with WHO told The Associated Press.

Cholera, one of nature's most efficient killers, is an acute intestinal infection. It is a water-borne disease that is highly contagious, and causes a copious, painless, watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if not treated promptly.

David Willhurts, the United Nations spokesman in Basra, told a news conference doctors were reporting a rise in cases of diarrhea, which he also linked to poor sanitation.

They are "trying to cope with increasing diarrhea cases among young children. The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, is actively engaged in tackling the garbage hazard, they have contracted trucks to start clearing the mountains of refuse from the streets," Reuters reported him as saying.

The WHO said the laboratory tests had to be carried out in neighboring Kuwait because the hospitals' own equipment was looted in the breakdown of law and order that followed the war.

Hospital workers have said they can only treat the symptoms of the disease, but not the source of the problem, which is clearly linked to Basra's water supply.

Sewage needs to be disposed of, garbage collected, and people need to stop using water from the polluted Chatt Al Arab river.

A lack of security is also hampering efforts to tackle the disease in Basra.

Health officials say vehicles used to transport workers have been stolen, one warehouse was looted, and many staff are worried about being out, especially at night when shooting can still be heard.

Also, there is not enough money to keep facilities running and pay staff, the WHO said.

Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, said Thursday the bulk of the coalition's rebuilding effort will focus on the south because the region is "a victim of three wars, a rebellion, and absolutely torturous treatment by Saddam Hussein over 30 years. ... Everything in the south is broken."

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Old 05-09-2003, 06:51 PM   #2
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Old 05-09-2003, 10:18 PM   #3
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Yeah, this is really sad. I just hope they can stop the illnesses before this becomes a real disaster.
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