By Dr Khalil Abdul Kareem, Manager, AMAR ICF Clinic, Khanke Camp, Iraq.
Iraqis Prepare for Another War. This Time it’s Covid-19
Life is so unfair. Just when you think a displaced person’s world can’t get any worse here in northern Iraq, along comes a virus that threatens to be the biggest disaster of all.
For almost six years, hundreds of thousands of Yazidi men, women and children have lived a truly miserable life.
First the monsters of Daesh (ISIS) attacked their towns and villages. Thousands were killed and thousands more women and girls were kidnapped, raped and sold as slaves. The rest managed to escape. But they left behind their homes, their precious possessions, their jobs. Their lives changed beyond recognition for ever.
Since then, the majority have been forced to live in the sprawling displacement camps. For years now they have slept under canvas, on hard concrete floors. Sanitation is basic. This part of Iraq is dreadfully cold in winter and insanely hot in summer – it is sometimes more than 50c!
It is the perfect breeding ground for sickness. Now we are faced with COVID-19. In an environment like this, it will spread like wildfire unless we take every possible precaution. It is a race against time.
Here in Khanke Camp, on the outskirts of the city of Dohuk, we have been working non-stop.
Khanke is home to more than 15000 people, and there are almost double that amount of people living as IDPs around the perimeters. I manage the only health centre here, which is run by the UK-based charity The AMAR International Charitable Foundation (www.amarfoundation.org)
We have a small staff of locally trained medical professionals – doctors, nurses, lab technicians and pharmacists – and around 25 women health volunteers (WHVs).
For the last week we have all been working non-stop to try educate the entire camp about how to keep COVID-19 at bay. The place is already over-crowded and there can be as many as 10 people sharing just one tent.
All our teams are out from first light, visiting people and giving them as much information as we possibly can. The biggest message is of course to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Something that is very easy to do when you have access to a proper bathroom and running water, but not so easy here.
But people are scared, so they are really getting the message. They understand the need to distance and to stay away from others as much as they can.
Our clinic is staying open six days a week, and we get up to 200 patients a day. Gastric infections are commonplace of course, as is flu, hypertension, chronic anxiety and depression.
Now every patient is given a lesson in how to keep themselves safe from COVID-19. Everyone knows it’s a threat. They all see it on the news, so they are eager to find out any way they can to protect themselves.
My staff too – like medics around the world – are frightened they could be the first to develop the symptoms. They all have families. Most are the sole providers. If they get sick, what will happen they ask me.
We all take every possible precaution. But access to PPE is limited. The Dohuk Health Directorate supply us, but they have limited stocks of masks, gowns, gloves. Certainly nowhere near enough to supply the population of the entire camp. We need outside help and support. Right now.
We have done what we can. The rest is up to god. We pray COVID-19 will not make it here.