Strained Iraq doctors crack under virus spike fears

A medic takes a swab from a patient in Iraq’s Basra province. (AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Strained Iraq doctors crack under virus spike fears

  • Country has officially registered more than 47,000 cases, with medics increasingly infected

BAGHDAD: 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 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.

In the capital Baghdad, doctors at several inundated coronavirus wards said they and their colleagues were on the brink of burnout, and complained of a long-standing lack of compensation for overtime.

“There was no bonus for doctors working in field hospitals during the war against the Daesh group,” said Ammar Falah, a 27-year-old medic at one of the city’s coronavirus wards.

“There was no bonus when there was mass mobilization for protests in October,” he said, referring to anti-government demonstrations that began late last year and left over 550 people dead.

“You think they’re going to give us a bonus now just because we’re taking on more hours?“

Falah said the Al-Kindi Training Hospital where he works distributed just five N95 masks to doctors each month.

But with so much interaction with infected patients, Falah said he needed to switch masks much more often and had begun using his $750 monthly take-home pay to buy protective gear.

“If the hours go up more or the workload increases, we’ll go on strike too,” he said.


250,000 pages of Palestinian history digitized and accessible for all

Updated 11 min 23 sec ago

250,000 pages of Palestinian history digitized and accessible for all

  • King Abdul Aziz Public Library is striving to preserve Arab and Islamic heritage

JEDDAH/RIYADH: The largest documented archive of Jerusalem’s history in the Arab Union Catalog is now available through the work led by the King Abdul Aziz Public Library (KAPL).

In cooperation with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), KAPL has helped to gather 820 records of the Jerusalem Shariah Court, each record containing between 150 to 500 pages, to form the database of the Palestinian libraries in the Arab Union Catalog.

The archive, which amounts to more than 250,000 pages in books, maps and manuscripts, covers Jerusalem’s history since 1528 and is available at the UNRWA Libraries Network.

KAPL, through the Arab Union Catalog, provided the technical capabilities to the information specialists of the education program, setting up the network to benefit libraries and Arab and Islamic culture.

Arab and Islamic heritage are the main pillars of KAPL’s work. On Palestine, the library has a large database of books, documents and maps. It has published a large illustrated volume entitled “Al-Aqsa,” which presents holy sites, heritage sites and the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosques. It also includes a large collection of rare documents and photographs.

Historical images of societies are part of their heritage and the global community. They tell of a people’s story and achievements, their suffering and loss, and serve as a vital element of communal identity.

Speaking about the importance of heritage conservation, Majed Al-Ahdal, an avid supporter of documenting antiquities, told Arab News that “documentation, in principle, is a manifestation of humanity and civilization; it’s a human condition that expresses the life of the individual and his or her deep desire for immortality.”

Today, few would disagree with the importance of documentation as a means of preserving the physical and intangible heritage. Through its various cultural projects, KAPL has documented Arab intellectual creativity, amassing a collection of more than 3 million books, journals, documents, manuscripts and rare photographs.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Through its various projects, KAPL has documented Arab intellectual creativity, amassing a collection of more than 3 million books, journals, documents, manuscripts and rare photographs.

• On Palestine, the library has a large database of books, documents and maps.

The digitizing of the archives will preserve and enrich Arab and Islamic culture and its sources.

“Documentation today is a means of surviving the historical and identity erosion of any one human being,” said Al-Ahdal.

Hundreds of photographs have been found of the old city of Jerusalem, which are an important form of documentation and can play a role in conservation efforts.

“It is a powerful tool on which many engineering and artistic applications can be built. It is one of the most important ways in which physical heritage can be remodeled in the event of damage or destruction caused by natural disasters or the devastation caused by human conflict, with the assistance of 3D modeling software and other engineering applications.”

He said that photography can offer a reliable record of buildings, decorations, people’s costumes, society’s customs, and colors that can be difficult to describe and document in other ways.

“Promoting historical written and oral blogs with visual documents helps to get more precise view of our Arab and Islamic history.”

In 2009, the UNRWA archive was inscribed by UNESCO in the Memory of the World Register for collecting a rich audiovisual archive of film and photography that contains more than 10,000 prints, 85,000 slides and more than 70 films on the life and history of the Palestinian people.