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Wednesday April 24, 2024

Covid rises in Iraq as vaccinations lag behind

By AFP
February 26, 2022

Baghdad: In the stores and buses of Iraq masks are rare even as Covid-19 spreads widely, vaccines are viewed with suspicion and the sick see hospitals as a last resort.

At Al-Shifaa Hospital in the capital Baghdad, the ramifications are clear. "More than 95 percent of those sick with Covid-19 in intensive care are unvaccinated," said Ali Abdel Hussein Kazem, assistant director of the facility.

Half of the 40 intensive care beds are occupied in the department, where irregular beeping from monitors and IV machines is constantly heard. Al-Shifaa hospital has been turned into a Covid treatment centre since the start of the pandemic and can treat 175 patients.

Linked to breathing devices, an old man and a young woman share a large room, where a family member is allowed to monitor them -- masked and in a white protective outfit. Next door, a man in his 60s fidgets, pushing away his blanket. An asthmatic, he is also hooked up to a ventilator.

"He says he is suffocating," an alarmed relative said, summoning a doctor. Iraq’s public health system, already worn down by decades of war, under-investment and corruption, has struggled to cope with the coronavirus.

Since January, Iraq’s 40 million people have been confronted with a fourth coronavirus wave but -- unlike other countries -- the government has not imposed any restrictions. Iraq has recorded more than 2.2 million infections and 24,000 deaths since the pandemic began two years ago, but data released by the authorities indicates that infections are now declining to around 2,000 new cases per day. Despite 1,400 vaccination centres, officials struggle to overcome scepticism about the jabs, which health experts around the world say are saving lives.

Fewer than 10 million people in Iraq, about a quarter of the population, have been vaccinated, said health ministry spokesman Seif al-Badr. Among them, not even seven million have received two doses, and those with a booster number less than 100,000.

In neighbouring Iran, 66 percent of the 83-million population have received two doses. "About 90 percent of the sick are older than 60," said Al-Shifaa’s intensive care director Mohammed Salih, as he made his morning rounds, checking X-rays and giving instructions.

"Most have chronic conditions: diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease," Salih said, accompanied by doctors and nurses from Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a charity which is assisting the hospital.

Along with training that aims to "sustain the care", the MSF programme begun in November provides physiotherapy and mental health care, said Daniel Uche, a physician who heads the project.

Countering misinformation is another priority. "Most of the pregnant women we admitted in our facility are not vaccinated because they are afraid for their precious babies, that maybe if they take the vaccine it will have an effect" on the infant, said Uche.

Meanwhile, New Zealand recorded 12,011 new community cases of Covid-19 on Friday, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. Nearly 8,000 cases of the infections were reported in the largest city Auckland. In addition, 19 new cases were detected at the New Zealand border.

Currently 237 Covid-19 patients are being treated in New Zealand hospitals, with three of them in the intensive care unit. Meantime, Malaysia sees fresh high of 32,070 daily Covid-19 cases, 46 new deaths.

Malaysia reported 32,070 new Covid-19 infections as of midnight Thursday in the highest daily spike since the outbreak, bringing the national total to 3,337,227, according to the health ministry.

There are 209 new imported cases, with 31,861 being local transmissions, data released on the ministry's website showed. A further 46 deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 32,534.

The ministry reported 23,332 new recoveries, bringing the total number of cured and discharged to 3,018,172. Among 286,521 active cases, 327 are being held in intensive care and 201 of those are in need of assisted breathing.

The country reported 137,197 vaccine doses administered on Thursday alone and 82.1 percent of the population have received at least one dose. 78.8 percent are fully vaccinated and 44 percent have received boosters.

In a related development, Hong Kong’s prisons on Friday reported a worsening coronavirus outbreak involving more than 200 inmates at a time when hundreds of political activists and protesters are behind bars.

The city is in the throes of its worst-ever Covid-19 wave, registering thousands of cases every day that are overwhelming hospitals and government efforts to isolate infected people.