“Blackwater Fever” Boils Through Anbar Province

It begins with the chills, matures into a fever, and gives its victims cold sweats. It kills red blood cells and ultimately can induce failure of the liver or kidneys. And, most noticeably to many of the Iraqis who now suffer from it, it turns urine reddish black—a detail that has caused it to be called “Blackwater fever.”

The illness has nothing to do with Erik Prince’s security company, but Blackwater’s reputation among Iraqis has now become the stuff of dark humor as a virulent form of malaria has begun to burn its way across Iraq’s Anbar province, particularly the Sunni strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi. From the Inter Press News Agency:

Talat al-Mukhtar is an Iraqi doctor now studying abroad. IPS asked him to comment on the Blackwater fever outbreak in Iraq.

“Malaria is endemic in Iraq, mainly in the northern part. However, it is prevalent in the milder forms; the severe form had been reported but not at an epidemic level.”

Dr. Mukhtar said this form of malaria requires a “triple-drug treatment programme because it is an aggressive infection.” He said the patient “requires meticulous medical and nursing care, and might even need time in an intensive care unit, as it can easily lead to kidney and liver failure.”

Like the other doctors IPS spoke with, Dr. Mukhtar was clear that the Iraqi ministry of health needs to take a proactive role before the disease spreads further…

The spread of this condition follows the outbreak of other diseases. According to the WHO, as of Oct. 3, 2007 cholera outbreaks in Iraq had spread to nine of 18 provinces, and roughly 30,000 people had fallen ill with acute diarrhoea, with 14 deaths.

An Oxfam International report released last July showed that the humanitarian disaster in Iraq is compounded by a mass exodus of medical staff fleeing chronic violence and lawlessness. The report said the lack of doctors and nurses is breaking down a health system now on the brink of collapse.

The report said many hospitals had lost up to 80 percent of their teaching staff.