30 August 2007The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing life-saving assistance to thousands of victims of a cholera outbreak in northern Iraq, as local authorities and their partners try to limit the spread of the infectious and often fatal water-borne disease. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing life-saving assistance to thousands of victims of a cholera outbreak in northern Iraq, as local authorities and their partners try to limit the spread of the infectious and often fatal water-borne disease. Yesterday the World Health Organization (WHO), which is leading the UN response to the outbreak, reported that Sulemaniyah governorate experienced close to 5,000 cases since 10 August, with 10 deaths reported and 51 confirmed cases in Kirkuk. Two hospitals in the stricken governorate also reported treating 2,000 diarrhoea cases. To help area hospitals treat the overwhelming number of victims, UNICEF has delivered medical supplies including 15,000 sachets of oral rehydration salts, which are critical to prevent death from the dehydration caused by severe diarrhoea. In addition, 4,000 safe water kits are being delivered today to families in Sulemaniyah, where significant numbers of displaced people are also at risk. UNICEF’s team is also helping to run a comprehensive monitoring and community awareness programme to better detect cases and help families stay away from contaminated water, the likely source of the outbreak. The agency is appealing to families in the affected areas to ensure that children are kept away from areas contaminated with raw sewage, always wash their hands with soap and only drink water that has been purified or boiled. Serious problems with water quality and sewage treatment are being blamed for the outbreak. Local reports indicate that only 30 per cent of the population in Sulemaniyah has an adequate water supply. If the epidemic spreads, there will be an urgent need for additional support including delivery of additional oral rehydration salts, water purification tablets, short-term water tankering and hygiene promotion campaigns.