Cholera alert in Iraq

The World Health Organisation warned today of the danger of an outbreak of cholera in southern Iraq, due to the lack of clean drinking water following the war.

Some 17 cases of the potentially fatal disease have already been identified in Basra, which is controlled by the British military, but WHO experts believe there are already at least 10 times that number of victims.

Iraqis unable to access clean water have been drinking filthy supplies contaminated with the bug, while poor security means some victims have been unable to get to hospitals, and health workers unable to get out to them, said spokesman Ian Simpson.

Despite allied forces having control of the area for about a month, there is still a shortage of vital drugs and intravenous fluids to treat victims.

Mr Simpson said: "The real concern is that the situation in Basra with a real lack of safe water for the population and a lack of security at the moment could lead to a really rapid spread of something like cholera.

"With a water supply which simply isn't functioning and isn't providing clean, safe water to most of the population, people are getting their water from completely unsafe sources.

"With a lack of security, people are not able to come to hospitals, either patients or hospital workers, and also people are not able to get out on to the streets to provide the kind of public information work that is vital to prevent something like cholera from spreading."

Iraq has always faced problems with cholera, said Mr Simpson.

"It is virtually an endemic disease in Iraq and this is the time of year one would expect to see cases," he said.

"We believe the situation is there for it to become a rather large outbreak and we want to prevent that. The way to prevent it is to work really hard to ensure that security is there so health workers and hospital workers can do their job and to get more supplies in.

"There is a real shortage of intravenous fluids and intravenous needles needed to rehydrate people who become dehydrated through cholera."

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