Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by eating contaminated food or water. Children face a particularly high risk of infection. The disease can kill in a matter of hours due to rapid dehydration. Iraq has confirmed 1,811 cases of the acute diarrheal disease since early September 2015 across 15 of the country's 18 governorates, including most recently in the northern autonomous Kurdish region.
Amid growing fears that it could spread among refugees in the region and beyond, Iraq plans to hold a mass vaccination campaign to halt the cholera outbreak that has infected more than 1,800 people, revealed the World Health Organization. The cholera vaccine is scarce and can only be used in rare cases to urgently stop the spread of the disease.
Dominique Legros, head of WHO's cholera unit, said, "We are going to start a vaccination campaign to try to prevent a further spread of the disease. Half million doses of the oral cholera vaccine, enough to treat some 250,000 people, were being shipped to Iraq and should arrive today or tomorrow, with the immunization campaign set to get underway by October 31, 2015. The Iraqi vaccination campaign would focus on the refugee camps in the north and camps for displaced Iraqis in the south."
Legros further added, "The arrival of cholera in the northern Kurdish region is particularly concerning due to the large numbers of Syrian refugees there pointing out that conditions in refugee camps are particularly conducive to the spread of the disease. The case management is well carried out, (and) cases are declining. The situation in Iraq seems to be 'under control'. The big concern now is a spread towards the Middle East, towards Syria and refugee camps."
Already a few cholera cases have popped up in Kuwait and Bahrain, but the situations there are under control. Legros said, "Other countries in the region had been alerted to the danger. Those infected risked bringing cholera with them to Europe. Cases of cholera are imported to Europe each year, but since sanitation conditions on the continent tend to be good, there is usually no risk of the disease spreading. Though that the large numbers of refugees and migrants moving through Europe and stuck at borders with rudimentary shelter ran a greater risk. Whether you put a refugee camp in Europe or in Nigeria or in Syria, the problem remains the same. If people don't have access to safe water and someone contaminates the water and someone else drinks it, they get cholera."