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Even Doctors Are Terrified by Coronavirus in Iraq

Even Doctors Are Terrified by Coronavirus in Iraq

Friday, 27 March, 2020 - 12:30
Iraqi women wearing masks on one of the neighborhoods of Capital Baghdad. (Photo: Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

Doctors and nurses across Iraq have treated hundreds of thousands of victims during decades of civil war, violence and sanctions, while watching what was once one of the best healthcare systems in the Middle East crumble.

Today, they say Iraq may be singularly unprepared for the coronavirus.

Through decades of conflict, Dr. Haidar Hantoush has watched wounded soldiers and civilians flood into Iraq's emergency wards. But he's never been so scared, Reuters reported.

"Violence we can just about handle. Patients stream into hospitals for hours at a time - but you can see how many there are. You get a lull to prepare for the next round," said Hantoush, public health director for southern province Dhi Qar.

"With coronavirus, there's no safe place. We don't know when the number of cases will explode.... Even the world's best healthcare systems can't cope."

Iraq has counted more than 450 coronavirus cases and 40 deaths, most of them in the past week. But doctors worry that those figures barely scratch the surface of an epidemic that may already be raging undetected across crowded cities.

"There are many unrecorded cases. People aren't getting tested or taking it seriously," Hantoush said.

One Baghdad doctor, requesting anonymity because the ministry forbade medical staff from speaking to media, said a sharp rise in cases is imminent. "We're bracing for what happens in the next two weeks. And we can't cope," he said.

Loudspeakers on mosques in Baghdad blast out government guidelines daily urging people to stay at home and get tested if they think they are ill. A curfew is in place until April 11. Borders are shut and international flights halted.

However, getting the message across is difficult in a country with deep distrust of the authorities. Tribes have sometimes refused to allow women with symptoms to be isolated because they do not want them to be alone in hospitals, Hantoush noted.

Dr Laith Jubr, 30, who works at a Baghdad ward testing suspected coronavirus cases said many Iraqis were nonchalant because they thought they had "seen it all" through years of war.

"This is dangerous. We're facing a hidden enemy that requires not just doctors but the whole population to combat it."

Security forces deployed on Friday to Baghdad's densely populated Sadr City district, home to millions, to enforce the curfew, a statement said.

The United Nations praised Iraq's early measures in closing borders last month but has urged respect for the curfew.

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