Strained Iraq doc­tors crack under virus spike fears

Arab News - - News Internatio­nal - AFP

Un­paid salaries, mask short­ages, threats from patients’ fam­i­lies — doc­tors across Iraq are crack­ing under such con­di­tions, just as they face a long-feared spike in coro­n­avirus cases.

“We’re col­laps­ing,” said Mo­hammed, a doctor at a COVID-19 ward in Bagh­dad who did not use his full name so he could speak freely. “I just can’t work any­more. I can’t even fo­cus on the cases or the patients,” he said at the end of a 48-hour shift.

Iraq has of­fi­cially reg­is­tered more than 47,000 coro­n­avirus cases, with doc­tors in­creas­ingly in­fected. “I per­son­ally know 16 doc­tors who caught it over the last month,” Mo­hammed said.

The coun­try’s over­all death toll is head­ing to­ward 2,000, with of­fi­cial daily fa­tal­i­ties start­ing to top 100 in the past week — and doc­tors warn they can­not keep up.

In the au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish north, a surge in coro­n­avirus in­fec­tions has pushed the number of cases there to over 5,000 — in­clud­ing at least 200 health work­ers — and the death toll to more than 160.

The line at the pub­lic Ali Naji

BACK­GROUND

Au­thor­i­ties and health work­ers across Iraq have long de­cried the state of the coun­try’s di­lap­i­dated hos­pi­tals, worn down by years of war, a lack of in­vest­ment and cor­rup­tion that has sapped funds meant for new equip­ment.

Hos­pi­tal in the north­east­ern city of Su­laimaniyah wound out the door, with dozens of peo­ple queue­ing to get tested — but in­side, the med­i­cal staff was thin­ner than ever.

The Kur­dish re­gional gov­ern­ment, like fed­eral au­thor­i­ties in Bagh­dad, is strug­gling to pay pub­lic sec­tor wages this year due to a col­lapse in oil prices and an eco­nomic re­ces­sion brought on by the pan­demic.

That has had a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on per­son­nel at state-owned med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties, who have not been paid in two months. Ex­hausted, thou­sands of health care work­ers at state hos­pi­tals in the Kur­dish re­gion an­nounced ear­lier this month they would stop treat­ing non-coro­n­avirus cases.

“At least 20,000 health care work­ers across the re­gion are ad­her­ing to this par­tial strike,” said Hawzin Oth­man, the head of Su­laimaniyah’s med­i­cal syn­di­cate. Among them are 800 doc­tors who joined over the past two weeks, just as the Kur­dish re­gion be­gan log­ging an uptick in COVID-19 cases. She­van Kurda, a 30-year-old doctor, is one of them.

“We’re work­ing 10-hour shifts ev­ery day, but only to treat COVID-19 patients,” said Kurda, who rep­re­sents Su­laimaniyah’s Med­i­cal Res­i­dents Syn­di­cate.

Kurda is owed three months of wages from 2019 and was not paid in ei­ther April or May this year. Au­thor­i­ties and health work­ers across Iraq have long de­cried the state of the coun­try’s di­lap­i­dated hos­pi­tals, worn down by years of war, a lack of in­vest­ment and cor­rup­tion that has sapped funds meant for new equip­ment.

Even Prime Min­is­ter Mustafa Al-Kad­hemi told re­porters last week: “We do not have a health sys­tem. “The health sys­tem is bro­ken, and the most ba­sic re­quire­ments are not avail­able, be­cause those who hold po­si­tions in some state in­sti­tu­tions are in­com­pe­tent. This has been ac­cu­mu­lat­ing for years.”

Iraq is also a no­to­ri­ously dan­ger­ous place to be a doctor, as patients’ fam­i­lies are known to threaten med­i­cal staff — some­times with death — if their loved one’s con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rates.

This week, Iraq’s med­i­cal syn­di­cate de­clared a strike across the south­ern prov­ince of Dhi Qar af­ter a fe­male doctor was as­saulted by a pa­tient’s rel­a­tive.

AFP

A medic takes a swab from a pa­tient in Iraq’s Basra prov­ince.

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