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Intl WHO Staff Return To Baghdad, Permanent Basis

International staff with UN health agency return to Baghdad on permanent basis

17 July 2008 - The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today that it has restored a permanent international staff presence in Baghdad for the first time since a suicide bomb attack on the world body's Iraq headquarters in 2003 left 22 dead and 150 wounded.

The agency said that the recently improved security situation in the country, as well as the UN's support of Iraq's International Compact initiative for reconstruction and development, led to the move.

"WHO is here to serve Iraq," said the agency's Country Representative, Dr. Naeema Al-Gasseer. "Our day-to-day dealings with the Government and other health partners will be vastly improved by having a permanent international presence here."

Since the 2003 withdrawal, WHO says that Iraqi personnel have kept working throughout the country, helping national and local authorities deliver vital public health programmes. These included immunization and disease monitoring, prevention and control. Key public health institutions have been rehabilitated and thousands of Ministry of Health staff trained.

Meanwhile, international teams continued conducting missions into Iraq, using the WHO Country Office in neighbouring Jordan as a hub. They responded to public health emergencies, such as controlling avian influenza and cholera outbreaks, and advising on technical issues and health system reform.

WHO says the basing of its international experts in Iraq will accelerate health sector reform.

"WHO will intensify its recovery and relief assistance to Iraq and help its people obtain the healthcare they deserve," said Dr. Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises Cluster. "This will be done in close collaboration with the Iraqi public, private and civil society stakeholders."

In a separate development today, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) condemned the killing of Abbas Kadhim, a member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Shabak Assemly, on 12 July in Bartallah.

UNAMI urged the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to initiate a prompt and thorough investigation.

ENDS

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