Currents News Staff
Iraq is seeing another devastating wave of COVID infections, averaging more than 3,000 a day this past week.
While ICU units are filled, it seems many others are reluctant to seek hospital care.
The constant beeping of the machines is mind-numbing, but at least there is something rarely seen inside a COVID-19 intensive care unit: those struggling for each breath are not alone.
Amne Abdulridha’s weak laugh is muffled, as an inside joke is shared with the doctors about how her daughter, Naba’a, is constantly hovering over her.
The family went to a wedding, no masks, no social distancing — a decision they all bitterly regret.
“I also have COVID, but I’ve forgotten about it with the state my mother is in.” Naba told Currents News as her voice started to crack. “We filled the house with oxygen tanks, but it wasn’t enough. and then we brought her here.”
Amne is doing much better now.
The family of Wafa Riyadh, another patient, also tried to treat her using oxygen at home. They did not want to bring her to a hospital, not an uncommon occurrence in Iraq.
We asked, “Why do you think people are reluctant to come to the hospital initially?”
“Maybe because of culture, Iraqi culture,” Dr. Hassan Alaa, Chief Resident at the hospital, explained.
For some it’s a fear of being stigmatized, having caught a virus that has brought the world to its knees.
“There are people even now who say, ‘What is this corona,” Wafa’a daughter Niran explained. “They don’t believe the virus exists until it hits them.”
But, it’s also a misunderstanding that oxygen and vitamins are enough to treat the symptoms of the virus.
There’s also a lack of faith in Iraq’s health care systems, which have yet to fully recover from sanctions dating back to the Saddam Hussein-era and then non-stop war.
“But this is a very bad thing to keep patients in a home, at home, treatment at home,” Dr. Alaa said.
Iraq’s first COVID-19 wave devastated the country. Hospitals were overwhelmed.
One infectious diseases hospital in Baghdad that the government facilitated Currents News access to saw its patient numbers triple in the last two weeks.
On whether they’re ready for maximum capacity or more patients, Dr. Alaa had this to say:
“We have beds, we have doctors, we have nurses.”
But, they do not have a choice.
“Two months ago the virus was nearly deleted from all of Iraq,” Dr. Alaa explained. “So all the people leave face masks, leave sterilization, leave everything, neglected everything, neglect all protection.”
This makes him stressed and worried.
“Sure we are afraid for our family, ourselves from this new virus. But we should do what we can to the benefit for the patients,” he said.
By a new virus, Dr. Alaa means a new variant. Iraq’s ministry of health recently stated that 50% of the new infections are of the highly contagious B-117 variant first identified in the U.K.
The government only just made face masks mandatory and reimplemented stricter restrictions like nighttime and weekend curfews.
“It should have happened before, not now at the end,” Niran said of the government’s measures as her mother’s chest heaved with each labored breath.
She won’t leave her mom’s side — no matter the risk, no matter the circumstances, In Iraq, a country whose history has resulted in a distorted relationship with death, no one stays in a hospital alone.