Awareness is key to flattening the COVID-19 curve in Iraq

The World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health of Iraq, today began a major COVID-19 awareness-raising campaign targeting people living in high-risk and heavily affected areas in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

The campaign will mobilize more than 250 community volunteers to deliver critical information, education and communications materials to approximately 6 million people living in 10 heavily populated districts for 4 weeks from 29 June to 28 July 2020.

“Health is the responsibility of all, and raising people’s awareness is essential to containing the aggressive spread of COVID-19,” said Dr Adham R. Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq. “WHO, the Ministry of Health, partners and donors are working hand in hand to fight this pandemic, and until a vaccine is developed we have to unite our efforts to flatten the curve and keep our communities healthy and safe,” he added.

The campaign will use mobile screens, booths and mobile medical clinics to display WHO educational videos and audio messages on a variety of protective and disinfection measures. State and private radio and TV channels will support the campaign with daily messages for the month. In addition personal protection packages containing masks, hand sanitizers, campaign slogan T-shirts and caps, COVID-19 awareness-raising flyers and other educational materials will be distributed to people in public places, main streets and bazaars.

Iraq recently reported a significant increase in the number of cases in Baghdad after lockdown measures were eased nationwide. Health authorities have tied the increase in numbers to increased testing capacity and improved active surveillance and weak adherence of people living in crowded districts to adopting protective measures as recommended by WHO and the Ministry of Health, such as practising good hand hygiene and social distancing and wearing masks.

The campaign includes support from key religious figures who have mobilized thousands of mosques in the capital to disseminate audio messages. “With no cure yet but prevention, we have to continue educating our people on the importance of following the health advice of WHO and the national health authorities to save our lives and protect our health workers,” a cleric attending the campaign opening in Sadir City, where the vast slums of eastern Baghdad are located, commented.

“WHO is aware of the challenging impact of the lockdown and movement restrictions on the limited and daily income which families in many areas in Baghdad earn. However, the Organization urges all individuals to follow safety measures and wear masks in gatherings and public places, keep hands clean, and pratise social distancing to stop transmission of the virus,” Dr Adham stressed.

WHO would like to extend its thanks to the Government of Kuwait and the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) for co-funding this campaign, and to WHO’s implementing partner the United Iraqi Medical Society for supporting its implementation.

(Source: WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq is urging Iraqis to follow the instructions of the health authorities to contain the spread of COVID-19 after a rise in infections, stressing that the re-introduction of a complete lockdown in Iraq was a necessary measure in the fight against the virus.

WHO Representative in Iraq, Dr. Adham R. Ismail, reaffirms WHO’s continued support for and cooperation with the health authorities in Baghdad and in the Kurdistan Region to ensure the success of the measures to combat COVID-19.

Dr. Ismail calls upon Iraqis across the country to commit to the highest levels of preventive measures and adhere to the lockdown to help the health authorities contain the spread of the virus. He also calls upon the authorities to strictly apply the lockdown measures coupled with intense testing of suspected cases through contact tracing and active surveillance. “These measures can only achieve the desired results with the collaboration of all.”

As of 31 May 2020, Iraq reported 6,439 cases, reflecting an increase in the average daily reports which is due to intensive active surveillance activities conducted by the health authorities to detect COVID-19 cases and ensure the citizens are following the necessary preventive measures and social distancing.

(Source: UN)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has fought the pandemic with every tool at its disposal to save lives and support countries with limited COVID-19 response capacity, including Iraq.

WHO and Iraqi health authorities proactively coordinated a comprehensive response to the pandemic as early as January 2020. WHO Iraq scaled up the country’s readiness and response operations mechanism, as well as its pandemic preparedness plan of action.

“The Government of Iraq, with the full support of WHO, mobilized resources at an early stage of the pandemic to contain its transmission,” said Dr Adham R. Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq. “National, regional and local authorities implemented strong measures to reduce the number of cases and suppress the rapid spread of the virus.”

Before Iraq’s first COVID-19 case was reported on 24 February 2020, WHO coordinated with several important actions taken by the Ministry of Health at both central and regional level. These early actions included enhancing coordination and planning among all stakeholders and partners at national and international levels, communicating with communities about the risks and how people could protect themselves, and ensuring capacity was in place to find, isolate, test, trace every contact, and treat every case.

On 9 March, a joint technical team from the WHO Regional Office and WHO headquarters arrived in Iraq to assess the capacity of the Iraqi Ministry of Health and health facilities on disease detection and case management. The team provided guidance to address gaps and improve the health measures taken by the government. Designated hospitals were prepared to respond to a potential spike in cases, and health workers were trained on infection prevention and case management.

WHO support to the national health authorities also included active surveillance, situation assessment and analysis, and awareness-raising sessions targeting first-line staff at border points and airports. 1800 Ministry of Health mobile teams carried out social mobilization campaigns and distributed WHO awareness material all over Iraq.

Rapid response teams were mobilized to carry out country-wide awareness raising, contact tracing, and testing activities, including disseminating infection prevention and control messages and guidelines.

Case management and continuity of essential services, in addition to logistics, procurement and supply management were among the priority actions.

The provision of laboratory services was also a focus. Direct cooperation between WHO and the COVID-19 Crisis Cell of Basra University succeeded in April 2020 in producing urgently-needed laboratory supplies to speed up the testing of suspected cases. This significant achievement was later replicated by other countries in the Region.

WHO lead a series of activities encouraging adherence to the lockdown and avoidance of mass gatherings that could lead to an increase in the numbers of cases. In March, the WHO Representative visited the religious Supreme Seminary in Najaf and recommended the postponement of religious gatherings. “WHO commends the stance of the Supreme Seminary in support of WHO and Ministry of Health recommendations and commends its positive response in encouraging the people of Iraq people to follow health preventive measures and recommendations,” said Dr Ismail.

(Source: WHO)

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) applauds the Iraqi government’s leadership and decisive response to the COVID-19 outbreak at a time when it is also confronting separate crises, including social unrest and an unprecedented economic downturn.

The UN commends the determination shown by local, regional and national authorities to contain the virus, as well as the success of the early and sustained measures that were adopted with strong support from communities. It nevertheless warns that each and every person plays a critical role in facing the ongoing second wave of infections observed across many governorates.

Recalling her recent statement to the UN Security Council, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert stressed that “no amount of government response can succeed without the active involvement of the entire population”. She added “Despite the high hardship imposed by these measures, we know that they represent our best hope of getting back on our feet as soon as possible”.

The entire United Nations family, with the World Health Organization (WHO) in the lead, is providing critical assistance to Iraq to face the pandemic, including lab and medical supplies, personal protective equipment, funding and technical advice.

“Iraqis can continue to count on the steadfast support of the United Nations during their time of need. The ultimate responsibility lies with individuals, who must play their part by following the instructions of the health authorities to protect themselves and their families”, the Special Representative concluded.

(Source: UN)

WHO conducts remote psychological first aid training in Iraq to address COVID-19 stigma and discriminatory

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been experiencing varying degrees of fear, concern, anxiety and stress which requires psychological support to enable them to cope better with the challenges they are facing.

In Iraq, WHO identified groups in need of psychological care, with a special focus on women, and addressed their needs through a series of online training sessions on psychological first aid and how to address stigma and discrimination.

In April this year, remote psychological first aid training was provided to more than 100 participants from several organizations working in the field of mental health and psychosocial support. The training introduced the principles of providing psychological care using phones or social media outlets.

Participants were coached to deal with stigma and shame suffered by people who have contracted COVID-19. They shared observations of negative behaviours and attitudes seen as directly contributing to negative health outcomes and difficulties in accessing information on the disease in pandemic-affected locations.

One of the training participants commented: “My neighbour refused to allow his 68-year-old mother to go to the isolation facility because of stigma. It is hard for a man in Iraq to allow his mother, wife, daughter or his sister to be taken for quarantine or isolation outside the family home; community traditions and social norms don’t allow it.”

Other participants spoke about how people infected with COVID-19 experience severe stress due to isolation from the family, neighbours, relatives and community.

“Stigma in some areas is cultural or grounded in social beliefs around the shame of getting a communicable disease,” another participant from Mosul commented. “I think a lot of people don’t understand that we all are vulnerable to COVID-19; acquiring the disease can happen to anyone and we need to focus on raising awareness and educating ourselves on preventive measures, the top of which is social distancing and hand hygiene. There is no shame in going into quarantine or staying away from family and friends if you are sick.”

Participants were also made aware of the important role they play in convincing the populations they serve to report suspected COVID-19 cases and encouraging them to maintain a proper and healthy lifestyle, including adopting appropriate breathing, talking, eating and body hygiene protocols.

“People with COVID-19 have to a certain level been negatively associated with stigma and discrimination worldwide,” said Dr Adham R. Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq. “WHO and the Ministry of Health and Environment jointly confirm that all people regardless of race, social status or ethnic background are vulnerable to the disease if protective measures are not properly followed.” “WHO and health authorities recognize the importance of addressing the health needs of those in need and continue providing specialized services to help them feel calm and able to maintain normal life activities in this difficult time,” concluded Dr Ismail.

(Source: UN)

Iraq produces COVID-19 laboratory supplies to more rapidly test cases

In cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 Crisis Cell of Basrah University in southern Iraq has successfully produced urgently needed laboratory supplies to speed up testing of suspected cases.

The global demand on supplies and equipment to fight COVID-19 has created a worldwide shortage of supplies. In particular, stocks of virus transport medium (VTM) – a gel-like substance used to preserve nasal swab specimens while they are being transported to laboratories – have been low.

As of 1 April, the University manufacturing team produced more than 1620 VTM, in addition to 3200 nasal swabs. These were delivered to health directorates in Iraq’s Basra, Muthana, Karbala, and Wasit governorates.

This new production, along with the Reverse Transcriptase-PRC (RT-PCR) kits provided by WHO, has facilitated the testing of hundreds of suspected cases in southern Iraq.

“The latest bottleneck to contain and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Iraq has been the shortage of supplies and equipment needed to collect and transport samples,” said Dr Adham Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq. “For this, WHO and Basra University have coordinated efforts to produce the essential laboratory products needed to test suspected cases, and together, we set the overall goal for supplying the quantities needed countrywide,” he added.

The new local production of VTM and swabs is a collective effort by Basra University, WHO, and other faculties like Al Zahraa Medical College, Faculty of Pharmacy, College of Sciences, and College of Agriculture, all in Basrah governorate. “We hope this will solve the domestic shortage issue resulting from the global demand,” said Dr Saad Shahin, President of Basra University.

The Basrah Crisis Cell has also announced 3 other COVID-19 response measures, including an online application for COVID-19 self-reporting. So far, the app has been used by 4500 applicants, of whom 130 qualified for further testing by the RT-PCR kits.

Disinfectants and sterilization material, including hand-rub gel, have also been produced locally with support from WHO and the Government of Iraq.

(Source: WHO)

Over the past few years, Iraq’s health system has faced many challenges, including internal conflict and the world’s biggest mass displacement in 2014-2016, all of which had a tough toll on an already fragile health system.

With the detection of COVID-19 in China in December 2019, WHO immediately initiated preparedness efforts, and arranged a series of technical meetings with emergency teams in both federal and regional ministries of health to assess health facilities’ resources and preparedness capacities to respond to a potential importation of the disease.

The sudden eruption of the virus in neighbouring Islamic Republic of Iran scaled up the risk of the disease spread in Iraq and necessitated faster prevention and infection control measures especially in the holy cities and pilgrimage sites, bordering governorates, and vulnerable communities in internally displaced and refugee camps.

Dr Adham Ismail, WHO Representative and Head of Mission in Iraq, said:

WHO is aware of the impact of a pandemic like COVID-19 on Iraq’s health sector and recovering services.

“We discussed with the health authorities in the Center and Kurdistan Region the means of urgent support to contain the transmission of the disease in the country. Joint work is underway and cooperation is at highest levels.

On 2 February, WHO proactively began strengthening national disease surveillance capacities in Iraq and providing case definition and management training, in addition to large-scale risk communications activities.

Hundreds of thousands of prevention and transmission control messages were printed and provided to 20 directorates of health in the 18 governorates, including the Kurdistan region governorates of Erbil, Dohuk, and Suleimaniya.

Mobile health teams took to main streets, public and religious places, remote cities and hard-to-reach villages in addition to airports, border points, state institutions, and camps hosting refugees and internally displaced people.

Maha Salam and Najah Ahmed from Wasit Directorate of Health in Wasit governorate, eastern Iraq, were among the mobile health team distributing WHO health messages to the public as early as 16 February 2020.

Early mobilization campaigns to distribute WHO COVID-19 educational materials succeeded in raising public awareness and readying preparedness efforts to protect individual health and that of the community in general.

WHO is working with the federal and regional ministries of health to increase and augment case management capacities, as well as detection and surveillance.

An urgent consignment of PPEs and laboratory test kits was delivered to ministries of health to enable the timely detection of cases and protect health workers in designated hospitals.

As of 30 March, Iraq reported a total of 572 confirmed cases with 42 deaths and 143 recoveries all over the country. The reported figures are still moderate so far, but WHO expects a spike in the coming two weeks due to the scale up in laboratory testing capacity which are going to be of high importance in terms of infection transmission and control,” concluded Dr Ismail.

(Source: WHO)

WHO technical mission visits Iraq to step up COVID-19 detection and response activities

A high-level technical mission from the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded a visit to Iraq to support the Iraqi Ministry of Health response to COVID-19 (coronavirus) prevention and containment measures.

The mission, which comprised experts from the Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean Region and headquarters in Geneva, held a series of meetings with national health authorities to identify the disease detection dynamics and at-risk populations, in addition to providing guidance on strengthening response and control measures.

The mission also reviewed the Ministry’s overall readiness to deal with a potential increase in case reporting and the priority of establishing an Emergency Operation Centre to speed up action now that the disease has been announced as a global pandemic.

WHO experts visited the Central Public Health Laboratory to assess the national laboratory capacity and availability of test kits. They also visited the Communicable Disease Control Centre and designated health facilities in Baghdad to review the ongoing response by nationals and assess the technical support required in the coming period.

Iraq reported its first case of COVID 19 – an Iranian student in Iraq on 22 February 2020 – followed by 4 cases for members of one family with a travel history to Islamic Republic of Iran. Case reporting escalated to include almost all Iraqi governorates. The total number of cases reported as of 12 March stands at 83 confirmed cases, 24 recovered, and 8 deaths.

There is growing concern among the local health authorities about the possibility of domestic transmission of the disease which would challenge the already vulnerable health system in the country, stretched by years of wars and internal crises.

The health authorities have already banned major public events, suspended schools, and closed malls and gathering places until 21 March.

WHO has so far provided and will further provide the Ministry of Health at both central and regional levels with sufficient supplies of laboratory test kits and personal protective equipment to allow for a quick response to severe cases.

In addition, WHO is working around the clock to establish 3 negative-pressure rooms in Baghdad, Erbil and Basra to accommodate patients who might require more sophisticated medical treatment.

(Source: UN)

COVID-19 preventive measures during mass gatherings discussed with religious leaders and health officials in Iraq

As millions are expected to visit Iraq in the coming month for religious events, WHO is working with religious leaders and health officials to discuss necessary preventive measures to improve planning for mass gathering events during visits to holy sites to protect visitors from possible coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections.

“So far, the measures taken by the Government of Iraq to limit the spread of COVID-19 comply with WHO recommendations. Other urgent preparations, however, are critically needed, such as designating proper isolation facilities,” said WHO Representative in Iraq Dr Adham Ismail.

“Iraq has conducted a risk assessment and health authorities are calling on clerics to support Iraq’s decision to avoid gatherings as much as possible to prevent the spread of this disease. WHO supports that position,” he added.

Iraq announced the first COVID-19 infection on 25 February 2020. This number has since increased to 26 cases on 3 March, all among nationals coming from Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Strict measures have been taken by religious authorities at Al-Kadhimain Holy Shrine to preserve the safety of workers and visitors alike. These measures include the use of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, by all shrine workers, in addition to closing the site for sterilization,” said the Secretary-General of Kadhimain Holy Shrine Dr Haider Hussain Al-Shammari.

WHO is providing technical advice and recommendations on visits to holy sites to prevent the spread of disease, including COVID-19. This includes best methods for sterilizing surfaces and equipment, the use of thermal detection devices at entrances and checkpoints, and proper referral and isolation measures for suspected cases.

(Source: UN)

More than 3.1 million Iraqi children to be vaccinated against polio

Health authorities in Iraq in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have launched a campaign to reach more than 3.1 million children under five years of age with lifesaving polio vaccinations.

The five-day campaign aims to target children in 65 districts in the governorates of Baghdad, Babylon, Diwaniya, Diyala, Muthanna, Thi-Qar, Missan and Basra.

“Over the years, WHO, the Ministry of Health and UNICEF have worked hard to improve the immunization coverage in the country. Therefore it is very important that we keep building on our work by making sure that children are vaccinated against childhood preventable diseases like polio, hence keeping Iraq free of polio” said Dr Adham Ismail, WHO Representative for Iraq.

“During this second phase of the campaign, we want to reach all the children under 5 years regardless of their previous vaccination status with Oral Polio Vaccine leaving no one out no matter where they are,” added Dr Adham

WHO supported the development of micro plans to guide the vaccination team day by day, mobilized and trained 1300 supervisors and more than 13000 vaccinators to carry out the campaign. In addition, it is also paying all the vaccination costs including transportation and other incentives to ensure that all children are reached using the door-to-door and at fixed centers stationed in health facilities strategy.

“These vaccines act as a shield, protecting children and babies from diseases, saving thousands of lives in Iraq each year. UNICEF continues to work hard with our partners to ensure that vaccines reach as many children as possible,” said Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF Representative in Iraq.

UNICEF worked to ensure that beneficiaries are aware of the importance of the vaccination campaign and that vaccines are properly forecasted, stored and managed; it also provided technical support to public health workers as they developed a detailed and up to date map of target children irrespective of whether the children are IDPs, refugees, returnees or in host communities, or whether they live in urban, rural, official or unofficial settings.

This is the second phase of the polio campaign after the first one conducted in September that reached 2.6 million children. Vaccines remain the most cost-effective preventive measure against vaccine-preventable diseases like polio, WHO, and UNICEF are committed to supporting the health authorities to reach every eligible child in the country with the needed vaccines irrespective of their location.

(Source: UN)