Iraq sees "catastrophe" with new cholera cases

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BAGHDAD, Nov 22 (Reuters) Iraq is facing a health ''catastrophe'' in the capital Baghdad, with reports of cholera rising sharply over the past weeks to more than 80 new cases, the Health Ministry said today.

Most of the new cases have been reported in the eastern part of Baghdad, especially in poor areas routinely deprived of water and other basic services, an official at the ministry said.

One cholera death was recorded in November, in addition to another death in September, said the official, who asked not to be named. ''We have a catastrophe in Baghdad,'' she said.

In western Baghdad, six people at a government home for the disabled were confirmed to have the disease, she said. Another girl at the al-Hanan Institute for the Severely Disabled died from the disease.

The Health Ministry official blamed a lack of proper sanitation for the cholera cases at the institute.

Cholera, which is normally caused by consuming water or food containing the Vibrio cholerae bacterium, causes diarrhoea and can swiftly kill its victims.

The official said that six governmental hospitals suffer from unsafe water supplies, including Yarmouk, one of Baghdad's chief hospitals.

A Nov. 13 report from the United Nations reported 22 deaths from cholera this year, and 4,569 laboratory-confirmed cases, almost exclusively in northern Iraq.

But the United Nations also warned that the illness is on the rise in Baghdad. It reported 49 laboratory-confirmed cases in the capital as of Nov. 11.

The ministry spokeswoman said that Kirkuk province in northern Iraq was the epicentre of this year's outbreak, with 3,006 cases and five deaths.

In neighbouring Sulaimaniya province, 14 people have died and 1,234 cases have been recorded. Arbil province, also in the north, has seen 275 cases, she said.

The ministry was trying to educate Iraqis about how to avoid the disease with advertisements on television and in newspapers and with leaflets handed out at checkpoints, she said.

REUTERS RSA RN2054

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