COVID-19

Press in Iraq | At the center of the battle against COVID-19

The second wave of COVID-19 has hit Iraq hard, with record cases in weeks. The health care system, undermined by decades of conflict, is under pressure. An invasion of a ward of a Baghdad hospital, which receives the most severe patients in the city.



Anne-Marie Provost
Special cooperation

Under the scorching sun, bathed in 40 ° C heat, as it was that day, four nurses, from head to toe in protective gear, push the stretcher at a run.

55-year-old Mohammed Yusif Radhi, lying on his back, winces in pain. The group breaks into an air-conditioned COVID-19 intensive care unit at Al Kindi Hospital in downtown Baghdad. The center, run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has 53 seats. The most serious cases are treated here.

  • Mohammed Yusif Radhi, 55, in the intensive care unit of Al-Kindi Hospital.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Mohammed Yusif Radhi, 55, in the intensive care unit of Al-Kindi Hospital.

  • Nurse Mahmoud Mohammed Faraj and patient Mohammed Yusif Radhi

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Nurse Mahmoud Mohammed Faraj and patient Mohammed Yusif Radhi

  • Nurse Mahmoud Mohammed Faraj and patient Mohammed Yusif Radhi

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Nurse Mahmoud Mohammed Faraj and patient Mohammed Yusif Radhi

  • Mohammed Yusif Radhi in the intensive care unit of the Al-Kindi hospital

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Mohammed Yusif Radhi in the intensive care unit of the Al-Kindi hospital

  • Mohammed Yusif Radhi equipped with a constant positive pressure ventilation device

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Mohammed Yusif Radhi equipped with a constant positive pressure ventilation device

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The team pushes the stretcher into the room. Mahmoud Mohammed Faraj, one of the nurses, sits next to a patient. He holds an oxygen mask on her face and the machine starts sending air into her lungs.

The man puts his hand on the nurse’s shoulder and speaks softly to him. “Allah bless your family, I am very grateful. I see all your efforts and how good you are to me. The teacher listens to him, smiling.

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

PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

When patients feel better, they are taken by ambulance to another hospital to empty the bed.

In another room, men are crying with tears in their eyes. A shirtless man gestures with his hand near the bed on which a loved one has just died.

Distraught with pain, they put the body on a stretcher and cover it with a thick blanket with red and green patterns. They then attach it using one of the blue protective gowns commonly worn by nursing staff.

Without interrupting their groans, they push him towards the exit.

Lack of beds

Two patients die on a “good” day, drop Dre Aurelie Godard, anesthesiologist, referral to MSF intensive care unit.

PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

Dre Aurelie Godard

Bad days are more like five.

“Not all is well today. Two patients have died and it is only noon now, ”she said.

Iraq is in the grip of a second wave of infections that began in February. Since the beginning of April, the number of cases has increased dramatically. On April 21, a record was reached – almost 8,700 infections, far exceeding the scale of the first wave. However, these figures are underestimated due to the small number of tests carried out. It is also difficult to quantify the availability of options.

Added to this is the slowly evolving vaccination campaign in a country where many are skeptical of vaccines.

On April 23, nearly 300,000 people received at least the first dose of the drug out of a population of 40 million.

The second wave hurts at the Al-Kindi hospital. “There are not enough beds. It is full of intensive care services, emergency care and triage, – describes Mahmoud Mohammed Faraj. Patients cannot be accepted and die because they do not have oxygen or drugs. ”

  • Al-Kindi Hospital emergency room corridor, which houses about fifteen patients infected with COVID-19

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Al-Kindi Hospital emergency room corridor, which houses about fifteen patients infected with COVID-19

  • Al-Kindi Hospital emergency room corridor, which houses about fifteen patients infected with COVID-19

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Al-Kindi Hospital emergency room corridor, which houses about fifteen patients infected with COVID-19

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The recent fire that struck the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, which killed 82 people, also led to the amputation of a system that is already lacking doctors, medicines and medical services. Hospitals due to recent conflicts over the years.

Difficult choice

Doctors also note that there are more young seriously ill patients than in the first wave. The 19-year-old died last week and it was a difficult time for those caring for him.

Therefore, a heartbreaking choice must be made every day.

If five patients are waiting for intensive care beds and I only have one, I have to choose. Some are younger, some have a healthier history.

Dre Aurelie Godard, anesthesiologist

The rest are in the emergency room dedicated to patients with COVID-19. In a windowless aisle with fifteen beds separated by curtains, 70-year-old Zahraa Hussein waited for a week.

PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

70-year-old Zahra Hussein has been waiting for hospitalization in intensive care for a week.

Her family insisted that she have a room. As patients walk past her into intensive care and see them die next to her, her morale drops. Some of her neighbors will never get there, like this 90-year-old woman who died the day before.

“She finds comfort in her faith in Allah,” says her son Muhammad Ahmed. Two family members can take care of them at the patient’s bedside.

As the team walks down the hallway, screams are heard. Men are pushing a stretcher into the hall, where a man is no longer breathing. He’s from another hospital.

Five educators are trying resuscitation techniques in front of their relatives. They give up in a few minutes; There is nothing else to do. The woman lets out a long cry of despair.

With dead people admitted to the emergency room, “this happens a lot,” says D.re Godard.

Outside, another reality

The consequences of COVID-19 are very real within the walls of the hospital. But outside, masks on sidewalks and in stores are rare. Even if, in theory, the police can impose huge fines on offenders.

A curfew is in effect every week from 20:00 and the population must remain locked up without interruption throughout the weekend. To enforce curfews, heavily armed Iraqi police and special forces are checking vehicles at checkpoints in Baghdad.

But the rules are not always followed. However, there are fees for iftar, a traditional dinner to break the fast during Ramadan.

  • 57-year-old Mayada Fadil in the intensive care unit.  She was admitted to the hospital 12 days ago.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    57-year-old Mayada Fadil in the intensive care unit. She was admitted to the hospital 12 days ago.

  • 57-year-old Mayada Fadil in the intensive care unit.  She was admitted to the hospital 12 days ago.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    57-year-old Mayada Fadil in the intensive care unit. She was admitted to the hospital 12 days ago.

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Mayada Fadil, who has been in hospital for 12 days and contracted twice since last fall, believes COVID-19 should be taken more seriously.

“Everyone has to follow the rules,” says a 57-year-old man who works in the hospital’s administrative department. Look where I am now, look at my situation. ”

  • Sadk Haider, 24, has been in the hospital for 26 days.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Sadk Haider, 24, has been in the hospital for 26 days.

  • Two family members can take care of them at the patient's bedside.  Many people bring an impromptu bed into the bedroom to look after their loved one.

    PHOTO STEFANO FASANO, SPECIAL COOPERATION

    Two family members can take care of them at the patient’s bedside. Many bring an impromptu bed into the bedroom to look after their loved one.

  • 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 rooms later, 24-year-old Sadk Haider is thinking the same thing. He was admitted to the hospital almost a month ago and his outlook on COVID-19 has changed. “At first I thought I would stay at home for two weeks to get well,” he says.

He breathes heavily despite the oxygen mask. “Now, when I see a blow, I am the first to line up for a blow. ”

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