When Ajeeba Ismael Hashim, 75, contracted COVID-19 this April, her symptoms were severe. She had a persistent cough, striking chest pain and a very high fever.
“I was concerned for my life. But what added to my stress during this period was the risk of exposure and spreading the virus to my family,” Ajeeba recalls feeling alarmed. “My heart was racing.”
Based in Qazaniya village in Diyala, Ajeeba has lived there all her life except for a few years during ISIL occupation when she moved to a neighboring village. She is a widow with 12 grown children with stable jobs. Knowing that she had pre-existing medical conditions, Ajeeba was scared.
Receiving timely care
Ajeeba’s son Osama As’ad Refat, 55, took her to Baqubha General hospital to seek medical care. “There was no doubt that she needed immediate medical attention. We were all so worried for her,” shares Osama. “As you know, this virus is not an easy fight.”
Once there, she was immediately admitted into the COVID-19 isolation center by the doctors. “I was surrounded by such helpful nurses and doctors. Amid all the trauma, I was grateful to have such support around me. The facilities for my treatment were great, especially as I needed oxygen support.”
Establishing dedicated isolation wards
In September 2020, UNDP worked with the Government of Iraq to establish 20 COVID-19 isolation rooms in Baqubah General hospital in Diyala. The wards were equipped with defibrillators, extracorporeal life support and protective gear.
“Since the isolation wards were established, we have provided critical medical care to hundreds of patients,” says Dr. Haider Jassim Muhammad, 52, Director of Baquba Teaching Hospital. He was the main doctor who attended to Ajeeba.
Doctors and nurses in the hospital have worked round the clock to save lives. “It has been the toughest period for health care workers. But we are happy when patients leave the COVID-19 wards healthy and recovered,” Dr. Haider adds.
Road to recovery
Ajeeba’s condition improved enough to be released in six days. She was sent home to fully recover and recuperate. “I was thrilled to see my house again. I still remember the day I walked into the house and was welcomed by my sons, daughters and little grandchildren. They stood far away to avoid contact, but I could still see their smiles. It filled my heart with hope.” She recovered fully 10 days later.
The spread of the COVID-19 virus in Iraq has infected more than 1.33 million people*. Amongst the unfortunate tragedy lies stories of Iraqis, who have defied the odds – surviving long days of isolation, requiring critical medical needs and fighting the virus despite their age. Ensuring timely and quality care for COVID-19 patients and a purpose-built environment for frontline workers to treat them has played an essential role in their recovery.
“If anyone tests positive and experiences the symptoms, first isolate yourself and get medical attention immediately,” says Ajeeba.
She wanted to share her story to thank all the frontline workers who saved her life and let people know that they should take the virus seriously.
About UNDP’s COVID-19 response in Iraq
UNDP has been supporting the Government of Iraq since the early stages to minimize the spread of COVID-19, reduce the loss of life, minimise the negative impact upon the economy and actively build social cohesion. Measures under the response package include increasing the testing capacity of laboratories, providing personal protective equipment, establishing isolation wards and undertaking assessments to establish post-COVID-19 recovery strategies. Currently, 19 COVID-19 isolation ward facilities are to be completed.
The COVID-19 isolation wards in Diyala were established with generous support from Belgium, Sweden and Denmark.
*As on 1 July 2021 when the story was published.