Iraq virus spike risks pushing strained doctors over the edge

by Maya Gebeily with Shwan Muhammad in Sulaimaniyah

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 declined to 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, speaking to AFP 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 towards 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. (AFP)

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