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WHO responds to critical health needs created by Iraqi crisis

Crisis in Iraq has unique health considerations
Crisis in Iraq has unique health considerations
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The current crisis situation in Iraq is created unique and serious health needs to displaced Iraqis. The World Health Organization is working diligently with local and international partners in Iraq to meet those urgent health needs.

WHO reports that:

• More than 500,000 people have fled their homes in Mosul and surrounding areas.
• An estimated 100,000 have entered Erbil and 200 000 have fled to Dohuk.
• Almost 25,000 are seeking shelter in schools and mosques in Mosul City, many with no access to drinking- water, because the main water station for the area was destroyed by bombing. Food shortages also are reported.
• As the fighting continues, hundreds of thousands more are stranded at checkpoints with no belongings or money for housing, food, water or medical care. There are no accurate numbers for casualties, but estimates are in the hundreds.

According to WHO, the health situation is expected to worsen given increasing numbers of people requiring humanitarian assistance and the difficulties faced in getting necessarily resources from Baghdad to affected areas.

Measles is one of the most critical health risks. It is already present in Mosul and could potentially lead to outbreaks, especially in overcrowded areas. The spread of polio is also a high risk because new cases were reported earlier this year as a result of the Syria crisis.

To monitor disease outbreaks, WHO has strengthened its disease early warning alert and response systems in Kurdistan and Mosul. The organization is also launching emergency polio and measles vaccination activities in some areas, such as Dohuk and Erbil.

Water and sanitation services are likely to be interrupted as a result of the crisis. This is expected to increase the risk of waterborne diseases, such as acute watery diarrhea, especially as temperatures rise during the coming summer months. A team from WHO is on the ground assessing the risk of epidemics in affected areas and will ensure that systems are in place to rapidly respond and contain disease outbreaks.

In an initial rapid assessment of health facilities in Mosul, WHO found that three of the city’s seven hospitals are partially functional due to lack of human resources and funding. The rest of the hospitals, including a pediatric hospital and a surgical hospital, are fully functional. Out of 40 primary health clinics in Mosul City, 37 are fully functional with staff, medicines, and water and electricity supplies.

Access to health facilities for populations in Mosul may be a challenge, WHO reports, as the crisis continues. WHO has deployed a public health expert to Mosul to work with health partners in assessing health gaps and needs for affected populations.

Trauma care will be provided by mobile clinics in Dohuk, and WHO will provide medical supplies to the clinics sufficient for 20,000 people for three months. Arrangements are being made to provide trauma kits for diarrheal disease as well.

“The impact of the unfolding armed conflict in Mosul and neighbouring districts on the health of affected population cannot be underestimated. These developments are expected to result in critical health consequences,” says WHO Representative in Iraq Dr Syed Jaffar Hussain. “The response to the health needs of those affected by the crisis requires concerted actions from all partners."

WHO’s efforts will be focused on:

• coordination among health providers, including local health authorities and nongovernmental organizations;
• trauma care (including mental health);
• outbreak control, protection of hospitals and health personnel;
• ensuring the continuation of medicines and medical supplies;
• closing the gap in water, sanitation and hygiene activities, maternal and child health activities, and key public health functions.

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