In the last month, there have been 1,500 confirmed cases of cholera in Iraq. Islamic Relief’s Project Coordinator Rouwaida Majid discusses the outbreak.

The first cases of cholera were in Abu Ghrabe district west of Baghdad. Four women were affected and all four women died.

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Communities have been affected

Abu Ghrabe is a rural district, and nearby is a camp that provides shelter for around 8,000 internally displaced people (IDPs). Both those in the camp and nearby buildings, and those from the established community struggle to find clean water. Most depend on water from tanks, wells and rivers and once these water sources had been affected with the cholera bacteria, people were quickly impacted.

Bottled water was diverted to the cholera-affected area, but elsewhere in the country, other people, worried about accessing water, dug new wells and, with the cholera bacteria also present in the stale water, the outbreak spread further.

Since those first cases in September, 15 of the country’s 18 provinces have been affected and more than 1,500 cases have been confirmed. To date, only Kurdistan, in the north of the country, has escaped the outbreak. Iraq seen cholera outbreaks before, in 2007, 2009, and 2012, but none were of the scale of the present situation. Cholera is an infection in the small intestine and causes vomiting, diarrhoea and leg cramps. If left untreated, it can cause severe dehydration and death. People need to act quickly to get it under control.

Prioritising sanitation

Islamic Relief is already responding to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq caused by widespread conflict that has left millions without homes. In response, in two days – September 30 and October 4 – Islamic Relief’s Iraq office distributed 3,470 bottles of water, and 1,735 buckets and hygiene kits containing items such as disinfectant powder, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary items, toothpaste, and shampoo .

Bottles of water have been distributed

Bottles of water have been distributed

We worked alongside the Ministry of Health. Government staff distributed chlorine tablets to sterilize the water, and raised awareness through TV and leaflets about how cholera spreads. UNICEF helped by raising awareness on text messages. People were advised to add the chlorine tablets to boiling water, and to use this water to wash all raw fruits and vegetables before they are eaten. The government quickly let people know that they should only drink chlorinated or bottled water, and not use water from any other source. More chlorine is being flown into Iraq from Jordan and Iran.

In many ways, the outbreak in Iraq seems like it is getting under control. The number of cases is still rising, and the World Health Organization has just confirmed the outbreak globally, but the increase in cases is much slower now than in the last week. Of course, even one new case is one too many; Islamic Relief staff have spent time comforting those whose loved ones have died from cholera, and none of us want to see any more suffering. Work to respond to the problem is continuing. Islamic Relief will continue to distribute bottles of water, hygiene kits and buckets.

Islamic Relief has been working in Iraq since 1996. Currently, there are more than 2.5 million Iraqis who have been internally-displaced by the conflict, and around 250,000 registered Syrian refugees. We have been delivering food, tents, blankets and heaters, installing water tanks, supporting families to earn a living and helping children access education.

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