Vi­o­lence mounts against Iraqi doc­tors as cases spike

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE - -AFP

NA­JAF, IRAQ: Iraqi doc­tor Tariq Al-Sheibani re­mem­bers lit­tle else be­yond cow­er­ing on the ground as a dozen rel­a­tives of a pa­tient, who had just died of COVID-19, beat him un­con­scious. About two hours later the 47-year-old di­rec­tor of Al-Amal Hos­pi­tal in the south­ern city of Na­jaf woke up in a dif­fer­ent clinic with bruises all over his body.

"All the doc­tors are scared," said Sheibani, speak­ing at his home in Kufa a few weeks af­ter the Aug. 28 at­tack. "Ev­ery time a pa­tient dies, we all hold our breath." He is one of many doc­tors strug­gling to do their job as COVID-19 cases rise sharply in Iraq. They are work­ing within a health ser­vice that has been left to de­cay through years of civil con­flict and un­der­fund­ing, and now face the added threat of phys­i­cal at­tack by grieving and des­per­ate fam­i­lies. Reuters spoke to seven doc­tors, in­clud­ing the head of Iraq's Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, who de­scribed a grow­ing pat­tern of as­saults on med­i­cal staff. Dozens have taken place since the COVID-19 pan­demic be­gan.

Mean­while, the United Na­tions has warned that the pan­demic could spi­ral out of con­trol in Iraq. Au­thor­i­ties have lifted many lock­down mea­sures, al­low­ing restau­rants and places of wor­ship to re­open, but they have shut bor­ders to pil­grims ahead of a large Shi'ite Mus­lim pil­grim­age that nor­mally draws mil­lions to the south of the coun­try.

Iraq has recorded sev­eral thou­sand new coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions ev­ery day, and the to­tal now ex­ceeds 300,000. More than 8,000 peo­ple have died, a num­ber that some doc­tors fear will rise sharply, putting front­line health­care work­ers un­der huge pres­sure and in some cases in phys­i­cal dan­ger. The health min­istry did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the COVID sit­u­a­tion in Iraq and medics' com­plaints about the threat of vi­o­lence. Sheibani, whose beat­ing went vi­ral when CCTV footage cir­cu­lated on­line, said the fam­ily of the de­ceased pa­tient blamed his staff for the death. He said he did not know how the video reached the pub­lic do­main.

The pa­tient had ar­rived at hos­pi­tal in crit­i­cal con­di­tion. "I hate my­self and I hate the day I be­came a doc­tor in Iraq," Sheibani told Reuters. "They brought the pa­tient in his fi­nal stages and he died, and they want the health sys­tem to bear the re­spon­si­bil­ity." En­forc­ing health safety guide­lines within the hos­pi­tal is not al­ways easy, es­pe­cially when ten­sions be­tween fam­i­lies of sick pa­tients and hos­pi­tal staff are run­ning high.

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