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Uprooted Iraqis at Risk of Water-Borne Disease Outbreaks

Displaced civilians from Ramadi wait to receive humanitarian aid from the United Nations in a camp in the town of Amiriyat al-Fallujah, west of Baghdad, Iraq, May 22, 2015.

The World Health Organization said millions of internally displaced people in Iraq are at risk of water-borne and other communicable diseases as scorching summer temperatures kick in. The U.N. agency warns it is practically broke and soon will not be able to provide life-saving assistance.

The World Health Organization said it will run out of money at the end of this month. The WHO and its 29 health partners need $60 million until the end of the year to provide health care for 2.8 million internally displaced people and local residents in Iraq.

WHO representative in Iraq Jaffer Hussain said the health challenges are enormous and the situation facing Iraq’s displaced is worsening because of ongoing attacks by the so-called Islamic State militants. He notes the group’s latest takeover of Ramadi has displaced another 140,000 people.

He said most of the displaced live in sub-standard housing, in schools, mosques, and churches in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions that make them vulnerable to communicable diseases, including measles and hepatitis. He also said many people with chronic illnesses, such as hypertension and diabetes, are not getting needed treatment.

Another problem, he said, is health workers have fled areas overrun by the insurgents.

“Most of the hospitals, clinics, and health centers remaining in those provinces or governorates are partially or completely non-functional because there are no human resources,” Hussain said. “Also, keeping in mind that the conflict has resulted in damaging a lot of health infrastructures... that minimizes the opportunities for the health work force, whatever is left behind to provide healthcare.”

Dr. Hussain said temperatures are soaring above 50 degrees Celsius, making people extremely vulnerable to cholera, acute watery diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.

He said WHO has a strategy of having health services follow IDPs rather than having the internally displaced follow health services. “That required putting a lot of mobile clinics on the ground, which we did. And, that also required putting pre-fab health clinics in areas where there is a concentration of IDPs all over Iraq, which we did.” He explained. “And, that also required to keep alive the supply chain of essential medicines and supplies to all these locations where IDPs are, which again, fortunately, we were able to do.”

Dr. Hussain said it is important to ensure preventive and curative health services to all in need and to maintain a supply chain of essential and life-saving medicines and supplies, but he warns many vital services will shut down at the end of the month if the WHO coffers remain empty.