Baghdad, April 16 (Reuters): Looters who raided Iraq’s Central Public Health Laboratory in Baghdad may have got more than they bargained for.
Medical workers at the centre, who were today trying to clear up the mess of broken equipment and smashed sample tubes, said the thieves had possibly exposed themselves to hepatitis, polio and a range of other diseases.
“The robbers and thieves are idiots. They don’t know what they are stealing. They will steal something related to an infection, and they may get infected,” biologist Dr Faisal al-Hamdani said as his feet crunched over broken glass. The centre is the country’s main public laboratory for testing a range of diseases. In its refrigerators and freezers — which were emptied and carted away by looters in recent days — hundreds of blood and other samples were kept. Many samples were negative, but some were positive, including samples that were kept to ensure tests are accurate.
“This is a local problem, not a public problem,” said Hamdani, adding that it could spread disease to looters and their families but was not a reason for a public health scare.
But he said the laboratory played a key role in the country’s health service, and needed security to prevent more looters from stealing what was left. So far, US troops have told him they could not offer a permanent guard.
The medical workers said AIDS samples were in some of the refrigerators that were taken, but they added the virus would not survive outside a controlled environment. But they said some diseases could be passed on. An intruder who cut himself, for example, could have picked up an infection, while the refrigerators they stole may also carry diseases. “This is the risk: that they use the refrigerator in their homes or may be they will sell it to other people. They have to bring them back,” said biologist Kamal al-Din Mohammed. He said several pieces of equipment had been taken, each costing several thousand dollars. Looters had also removed eyepieces from a microscope.