Iraq cholera outbreak claims first fatality

Case numbers rising as disease takes life in central Kirkuk governorate

An Iraqi man suffering from cholera waits for medical treatment at a hospital in Baghdad, September 21, 2015. Reuters
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Iraq’s Ministry of Health has reported the first death from a cholera outbreak after it announced at least 17 more cases in 24 hours, taking the total to 76 this year.

“The governorate of Kirkuk recorded its first death from the disease today,” Ministry of Health spokesman Saif Al Badr said, according to state news agency INA.

On Monday, Mr Al Badr said cholera-positive test rates had exceeded 20 per cent.

Characterised by acute diarrhoea caused by an intestinal infection, cholera is waterborne and can spread quickly, especially in poor hygiene conditions. If left untreated, it can result in death.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation sent out emergency medical supplies to Iraq’s Kurdish governorate of Sulaymaniyah in response to the increasing number of cholera cases there.

The dispatch included antibiotics, intravenous fluid and infusion sets to cover 5,000 people for three months, the WHO said in a statement.

At the time, the majority of the cases reported were in the governorate, Sulaymaniyah Health Minister Dr Saman Hussain Barzangy said.

“The increase in new cases in Sulaymaniyah and other governorates is a reason for concern for WHO and the Ministry of Health, as it is coming on the backdrop of Covid-19,” said WHO's representative and head of mission in Iraq, Dr Ahmed Zouiten.

Iraq went through its most recent cholera outbreak in 2015 — with around 2,000 cases at one point.

Water mixed with sewage and waste from factories, as well as low water levels in the Euphrates and Tigris due to severe drought — the rivers provide Iraq's main supply of fresh water ― were critical factors in the outbreak.

An Iraqi girl fills a tin with from a water pipe crossing an uncovered sewage canal in Fdailiyah Many of Baghdad's neighbourhoods lack essential infrastructure such as power and clean water. AFP

Iraqi Kurdistan was also the most affected then.

Iraq joins other countries in the Eastern Mediterranean such as Yemen and Afghanistan, which are enduring outbreaks.

Afghanistan’s recent outbreak was exacerbated by a 5.9 magnitude earthquake that claimed more than 1,000 lives, injured more than 1,400 and left thousands homeless.

Yemen, now in its seventh year of war, recorded 1 million cases of cholera in 2017 — becoming home to the world’s worst cholera crisis in recent history.

Water projects were halted, further limiting access to clean water, before a UN-brokered truce came into effect on April 1.

Updated: June 29, 2022, 2:11 PM