Journalism in Iraq | At the heart of the battle against COVID-19

A second wave of COVID-19 is hitting Iraq hard, with a record number of infections for weeks. The health system, undermined by decades of conflict, is under pressure. He penetrated a hospital unit in Baghdad, which receives the most severe cases in the city.


Anne-Marie Provost
Special cooperation

Under the blazing sun, which is shrouded in 40 ° C that day, four nurses covered from head to toe in protective gear push a stretcher in a row.

Muhammad Yusef Radi, 55, lies on his back, complaining of pain. The group stormed the COVID-19 air-conditioned intensive care unit at Al-Kindi Hospital in central Baghdad. The center, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has 53 beds. The most serious cases are addressed here.

  • Muhammad Yusef Radi, 55, in the intensive care unit at Al-Kindi Hospital

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    Muhammad Yusef Radi, 55, in the intensive care unit at Al-Kindi Hospital

  • The nurse, Mahmoud Mohamed Farag, and the patient, Mohamed Youssef Radi

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    The nurse, Mahmoud Mohamed Farag, and the patient, Mohamed Youssef Radi

  • The nurse, Mahmoud Mohamed Farag, and the patient, Mohamed Youssef Radi

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    The nurse, Mahmoud Mohamed Farag, and the patient, Mohamed Youssef Radi

  • Muhammad Yusef Radi is in a room in the intensive care unit of Al-Kindi Hospital

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    Mohamed Youssef Radi is in a room in the intensive care unit of Al-Kindi Hospital

  • Muhammad Yusef Radi, equipped with a continuous positive pressure ventilator

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    Muhammad Yusef Radi, equipped with a continuous positive pressure ventilator

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The team shoves the stretcher into a room. Mahmoud Mohamed Farag, one of the nurses, sits next to the patient. She keeps an oxygen mask on her face, and the machine begins sending air into her lungs.

The man places his hand on the nurse’s shoulder and talks to him calmly. “God bless your family, I am very grateful. I see all the effort you are making, and how kind you are to me. The caregiver listens and smiles.”

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The patient’s condition is now stable. Others will be less fortunate that day.

PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

Once the patients have improved, they are taken by ambulance to another hospital to free the bed.

In another room, men screamed, tears in their eyes. Shirtless man points to the side of the bed where a loved one just died.

Crazy in pain, they place the body on a stretcher and cover it with a thick blanket with red and green patterns. They then pin it up using one of the blue protective gowns that nursing staff usually wear.

Without cutting the wailing, they push it towards the exit.

Lack of family

Two patients die on a “good” day, drop the letter D.Return Aureli Godard, MSF Anesthesiology and Referral Specialist.

PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

DReturn Aureli Godard

Bad days are like five.

“Today is not going well. Two patients died and it is only noon.”

Iraq struck a second wave of injuries, which began in February. Since the beginning of April, the number of cases has increased. A record high was reached on April 21 with nearly 8,700 hits, far exceeding the size of the first wave. However, these numbers were underestimated due to the small number of tests performed. It is also difficult to determine the existence of variables.

In addition, a vaccination campaign is slowly advancing in a country where many vaccines are questioned.

Nearly 300,000 people got at least their first dose on April 23, out of a population of 40 million.

At Al-Kindi Hospital, the second wave hurts. “Not enough beds. Mahmoud Mohamed Farag describes it as full of intensive care, emergency, and triage. The sick and the dying could not be accepted because they had no oxygen or medicine. ”

  • The corridor of the emergency department of Al-Kindi Hospital, which is home to about fifteen patients with Covid-19.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    The corridor of the emergency department of Al-Kindi Hospital, which is home to about fifteen patients with Covid-19.

  • The corridor of the emergency department of Al-Kindi Hospital, which is home to about fifteen patients with Covid-19.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    The corridor of the emergency department of Al-Kindi Hospital, which is home to about fifteen patients with Covid-19.

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The recent fire that destroyed the intensive care unit with Covid-19 at Ibn al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, in which 82 people were killed, also severed a system that already lacks doctors, medicines and hospitals due to recent years of conflicts.

Tough choices

Doctors also note that there are more young patients with severe illnesses than in the first wave. A 19-year-old boy died the week before, a time that was tough for caregivers.

So heartbreaking choices must be made every day.

If there were five patients waiting in the intensive care bed and I only had one, I would have to pick. Who is younger, who has a better health history.

DReturn Aureli Godard, anesthesiologist

The rest will be in the emergency room designated for COVID-19 patients. In the windowless corridor of about 15 beds separated by curtains, Zahraa Hussein, 70, has been waiting for a week.

PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

Zahraa Hussein, 70, has been in intensive care for a week.

Her family insisted she had a room. By seeing patients pass her through to intensive care, and seeing them die around her, her spirits deteriorate. Some of her neighbors will never have time to be accepted, like this 90-year-old woman who passed away the day before.

Her son, Muhammad Ahmad, says: “She finds comfort in her belief in God.” Two persons per bed are allowed to take care of them.

As the team toured the lobby, disturbing screams were heard. The men push a stretcher into the hall, where a man who is no longer breathing lies on it. He came from another hospital.

Five caregivers attempt resuscitation maneuvers under the gaze of relatives. They give up after a few minutes. There is nothing else to do. The woman cries out long in distress.

Among the dead arriving at the emergency room, “this happens a lot,” says Dr.Return Rye.

Another fact abroad

The effects of COVID-19 are very real inside the hospital walls. Outside, however, masks are scarce on the sidewalks and in stores. Even if the police could, in theory, impose heavy fines on violators.

A curfew is imposed during the week from 8 PM, and residents must remain confined without interruption throughout the weekend. To enforce the curfew, heavily armed Iraqi police and Special Forces are searching cars at checkpoints in Baghdad.

But the rules aren’t always followed. However, there are congregations for iftar, which is the traditional evening meal for iftar during Ramadan.

  • Mayada Fadel, 57, in her intensive care unit.  She was hospitalized 12 days ago.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    Mayada Fadel, 57, in her intensive care unit. She was hospitalized 12 days ago.

  • Mayada Fadel, 57, in her intensive care unit.  She was hospitalized 12 days ago.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    Mayada Fadel, 57, in her intensive care unit. She was hospitalized 12 days ago.

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Mayada Fadel, who was hospitalized 12 days ago and has been infected twice since last fall, believes that COVID-19 must be taken more seriously.

“Everyone should follow the rules,” says the 57-year-old, who works in the hospital’s administrative department. See where I am now, see where I am. ”

  • Sadiq Haidar, 24, has been in hospital for 26 days.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    Sadiq Haidar, 24, has been in hospital for 26 days.

  • Two persons per bed are allowed to take care of them.  Many bring a makeshift bed into the bedroom to keep an eye on loved ones.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    Two persons per bed are allowed to take care of them. Many bring a makeshift bed into the bedroom to keep an eye on loved ones.

  • A room in the intensive care unit of Al-Kindi Hospital

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, Special Cooperation

    A room in the intensive care unit of Al-Kindi Hospital

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A few more rooms, Sadiq Haidar, 24, thinks the same. He was hospitalized nearly a month ago, and his view on COVID-19 has changed. “At first I thought I would stay home for two weeks until I recover,” he says.

He could hardly breathe despite the oxygen mask. “Now that I see the effect, I’ll be the first to line up in the shot.”

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