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Iraqis Fear New Enemy: H1N1 Virus

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Iraqis Fear New Enemy: H1N1 Virus


Iraqis Fear New Enemy: H1N1 Virus

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The World Health Organization has announced plans to deliver more than 200 million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine to nearly 100 developing countries. The organization relies on donations from governments and manufacturers to come up with that vast supply. It will start inoculations in 16 countries for just two percent of the population.

The virus widely known as swine flu is causing a panic wherever it goes, even where you might think there'd be more pressing concerns, like Iraq. Fewer than 500 cases have been reported there but it's not uncommon to see children walking home wearing surgical masks. Fear of the virus has caused a rash of school closing and even deterred some Iraqis from making this year's pilgrimage to Mecca.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Masks and rubber gloves are all the rage, and Iraq's political parties are competing to show which one has the better anti-influenza program.

Swine flu first turned up here among U.S. soldiers last summer. Since then only five Iraqis have died from H1N1, according to the health ministry, but the panic has spread much faster.

Mr. AMMR SADIQ (Cameraman): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Ammr Sadiq, a cameraman in the southern city of Najaf, says he doesn't believe Western medicine is very advanced, and he's been trusting a local holy man instead, who can keep the disease away by reciting blessings from the Quran.

The government would prefer that Iraqis call a hotline they've set up at the first sign of symptoms.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

LAWRENCE: At the other end of the line, a health ministry employee answers questions.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: He refers patients to a clinic if the case sounds like swine flu. Authorities are suggesting that if two classrooms in the same school show signs of an outbreak, the school will be shut for a week. But hundreds of schools have been shutting anyway and there were rumors in the south of some suspected flu carriers being run out of town by hysterical residents.

Iraq's government and several others in the region have slapped restrictions on who may travel this year on the Hajj, the Muslim holy pilgrimage to Mecca.

If you're planning to visit Iraq these days, please keep your cool. Doctors armed with thermometers have been greeting some flights at the airport hoping to turn away anyone with a fever.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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