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The World Food Programme (WFP) said it had information that the government-run food distribution system was still partially functioning in south and central Iraq, where incomplete rations were still being delivered by food agents.

“This is a good sign, but we are still operating under the assumption that most families who are entirely dependent on monthly food rations would run out of food by the end of April,” WFP spokesman Khaled Mansour said. He expressed concern over the sharp rise in food prices in northern Iraq which have risen overall by 18 per cent since 15 March and four-fold in some areas.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that it had delivered a fresh shipment of emergency medical equipment, supplies and medications to the Al-Ruwaished Hospital, near Jordan’s border with Iraq, where contingency plans have been made to receive any refugee influx. The supplies were particularly intended to boost the hospital’s ability to assist pregnant women and to save the lives of mothers and their babies, UNFPA spokesman Ziad Rifai said.

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Côte d’Ivoire

26 March – Expressing deep concern over the worsening impact of conflict on children in Côte d’Ivoire, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said it found “near catastrophic conditions prevailing” in the northeastern part of the country.

“It’s unacceptable that no child has been vaccinated in Bouna for six months. The situation is alarming,” the leader of a recent assessment team to the area, Herbert Schembri, said. “The health care system has broken down. Most of the medical personnel have fled. There are no drugs in the health facilities.”

Last week, UNICEF sent a team to assess the conditions in Bondoukou and Bouna districts where residents have endured conflict for the past six months. The agency said it found near catastrophic conditions prevailing.

The children’s agency is gearing up to send a convoy of medical supplies to the two districts as a first step in restarting its comprehensive support activities previously disrupted by the war. A sub-office was opened last month in Bouaké to better coordinate its humanitarian activities in the northern parts of the occupied zones.

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26 March – United Nations experts today concluded that the atypical pneumonia cases in China are likely the same disease now identified as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), bringing the figures for the country to more than double since the last date of reporting.

A World Health Organization (WHO) team of five international experts, which arrived in China over the weekend, reviewed the definition used to identify cases of atypical pneumonia and the agency’s own criteria for identifying probable cases of SARS, and concluded that the two definitions were compatible.

The WHO experts said the similarity in symptoms and details of several clusters of cases suggest that the atypical pneumonia that began in Guangdong Province on 16 November and SARS that began appearing in other Asian countries on 26 February are the same disease.

Chinese authorities today officially reported that a total of 792 cases and 31 deaths had occurred between the start of the outbreak through 28 February – a significant increase from the 305 cases and five deaths that had been previously reported for the period covering the outbreak until 9 February.

To minimize further transmission of the disease, China is following procedures in line with WHO recommendations. Local authorities also told the WHO team of a new reporting system that will rely on regular provincial updates. China is also beginning a collaborative programme in which samples from infected local patients will be exchanged with the WHO network of collaborating laboratories working to identify the SARS causative agent.

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