U.N. ramps up polio vaccine campaign, healthcare efforts in Iraq

Relief agencies and partners of the United Nations recently ramped up their healthcare response efforts in Iraq with a massive polio vaccination campaign in the capital of Baghdad and an initiative aimed at improving healthcare in Kurdistan.

Dan Epstein, a spokesperson for the U.N. World Health Organization, said the organization is working with UNICEF to carry out the vaccination campaign.

"Sub-regional vaccination campaigns in Baghdad and two other Governorates have just been completed, and according to the monitoring of the Iraqi Red Crescent, 95.5 percent of children under five had been reached," Epstein said during a press briefing in Geneva, adding that a campaign had also been carried out in Ninewa Governorate districts to provide more than 23,000 children with polio vaccines.

Though efforts to relieve the burden on Kurdistan's healthcare system have been postponed due to logistical challenges, vaccines have been delivered to the Kurdistan Ministry of Health.

Since the last outbreak of conflict, the WHO has provided medical supplies to more than 170,000 people in the Ninewa governorate in northern Iraq. WHO has also airlifted 15 tons of medical supplies and medications.

Kurdistan's Ministry of Health has collaborated with the WHO on procuring supplies to treat conditions that are currently undertreated, including kidney failure, hypertension and diabetes.

"The issue of concern is that there are more than one million internally displaced persons, who are at increased risks of communicable diseases, including risks of polio, cholera, measles and tuberculosis," Epstein said, pointing to the "immense burden" on Kurdistan's existing healthcare system.

Epstein said the WHO is currently working with Kurdish health authorities on an electronic early warning system, with a goal of covering 600 of Kurdistan's 1,000 health facilities.