WHO to meet Iraqi officials on DU health study
GENEVA, Aug 23 (Reuters) - The World Health Organisation said on Thursday it would meet Iraqi experts next week to firm up planned research into cancers which Baghdad blames on Allied use of depleted uranium in the 1991 Gulf War.
The talks, being held in Baghdad from August 27-31, follow a formal invitation received from the Iraqi government, the United Nations health agency said in a statement.
WHO and Iraqi officials met last April at the agency's headquarters in Geneva, where they hammered out a basic framework for intensified technical and scientific cooperation.
The mission will kick off WHO's first comprehensive attempt to assess the state of public health a full decade after a U.S.-led alliance bombed Iraq which had invaded Kuwait.
"The purpose of the mission is to complete work on detailed proposals for studies on non-communicable diseases and congenital malformations and draw up a schedule for implementation of the research," WHO said.
Diseases to be tracked were mainly cancers and renal disease.
"The studies' aim will be to investigate claimed increases in these diseases in Iraq and look into their potential link to environmental and other risk factors," it added.
Baghdad has insisted for years that there was a link between depleted uranium (DU) -- a toxic, radioactive element on tips of armour- piercing weapons used by U.S. and British forces during the conflict - - and growing incidence of leukaemia and other cancers in Iraq.
Baghdad's Health Ministry says cancer cases increased from 6,555 in 1989 to 10,931 in 1997, especially in areas bombed by U.S.-led forces during the war.
But WHO and NATO say there is no evidence that DU munitions cause cancer, despite media reports suggesting a number of NATO peacekeepers in the Balkans had fallen ill or died after exposure.
WHO and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) said last March, after collecting extensive soil and water samples in Kosovo, that DU used by NATO posed "no significant risks."
FOCUS NOT JUST DU
"We will not just focus on depleted uranium, it is one of many environmental risk factors," Dr Michael Repacholi, WHO's occupational and environmental health coordinator, told Reuters.
"Iraq had industrial plants burn, which spreads chemicals and heavy metal dust which can get into the water supply and also be breathed in. We have to assess the exposure to these things too."
A primary WHO goal will be to provide Iraqi officials with equipment, fellowships and training so that they can set up cancer registries and carry out analysis, Repacholi said.
WHO's eight-member team will be led by Dr Abdelaziz Saleh, the deputy head of its regional office in Cairo.