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Constrained By Politics, Lack Of Funding, WHO Ill-Equipped To Respond To Cholera Outbreak In Syria

Foreign Affairs: The Next Cholera Epidemic
Sonia Shah, science journalist and author

“A cholera outbreak that began in Iraq in mid-September has spread into war-torn Syria. … This outbreak was predictable. … Millions of people are internally displaced in Syria, and supplies to disinfect drinking water have been cut off outside government-controlled areas. … The trouble with the WHO is that it is politically constrained; it must obtain governments’ permission to work in their territory … [which] limits the WHO’s activities to government-controlled territories. The WHO is also financially dependent on donors. … These constraints slow down and politicize the WHO’s work. … Recent failures to contain the Ebola virus and cholera continue to exact heavy tolls; both Haiti and Guinea in West Africa are still struggling to control these newly arrived pathogens. As cholera wends its way through the battered alleys and tattered refugee tents of northern Syria, a similarly unprecedented epidemic is poised to unfold in the Middle East. The difference is that averting it is still possible. But the time to act is now” (11/10).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.