he Arba’een mass gathering (MG) in Iraq is now one of the largest annual gatherings worldwide. The Arba’een pilgrimage takes place for approximately 11 days each year. This mass gathering can pose health security concerns as it may become a hotbed for the rapid transmission and spread of dangerous diseases in Iraq and outside country borders. As an MG, it can serve as a target for bioterrorism attacks which can be overwhelming to the national infrastructure and resources and a key concern and a serious challenge to global health.
Since 2014, EMPHNET has been working with the Ministry of Health in Iraq to enhance its capacity to enhance public health surveillance and response efforts during the Arba’een MG.
To build on its experience gained and share lessons learned from such collaboration, EMPHNET, in collaboration with the US Department of State’s International Security and Nonproliferation, Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction ISN/CTR Iraq Program, supported the development of three Policy Briefs focusing on mass gathering areas related to chemical and biological threats and the adoption of threat mitigation best practices during the Arba’een MG. The developed policy briefs were officially shared with mid to senior-level professionals from the Ministry of Health and other key stakeholders who are directly responsible for the coordination and implementation of supporting mass gathering activities in the country. Attendees reviewed and discussed the following policy briefs:
Policy Brief (1): Institutionalization of real-time surveillance during the Arba’een mass gatherings in Iraq and its integration into the national system.
Policy Brief (2): Promoting multi-sectoral collaboration among relevant governmental and non-governmental sectors for a concerted and coordinated effort to respond to potential threats.
Policy Brief (3): Develop and operationalize a mass gathering emergency plan to prepare for, detect, and respond to potential chemical, biological, or radiological threats/casualties posed by WMDs
This meeting brought key stakeholders together to establish a shared understanding of the various threats related to MGs in Iraq, including chemical, biological incidents among other emergency situations that can pose a risk to the public health. Additionally, the recommended evidence-based policy options were discussed as mitigation measures that can allow policymakers to make informed decisions to enhance coordination mechanisms and strengthen Iraq’s capacity to detect and respond to potential chemical, biological, or radiological incidents during mass gathering events in Iraq