Iraqi Christian town fights an imbalance battle with Covid-19  

Nineveh Plain, Alqosh, the hometown of the Iraqi Christians, 2019. Photo: Ammar Aziz

Ammar Aziz

Christians of the northern Iraqi town of Alqosh have been left with no options but to rely on protective measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, as the wide area has only one medical doctor with insufficient medical supplies.

Alqosh, which is a sub-district within Tal Kaif district, 40 km north of the city of Mosul, consists of 34 villages and communities. Five thousand formerly displaced persons, majority Christians, have returned to the town up to date.

“Our biggest concern is that we only have a medical doctor, is it acceptable?! And as soon as the working hours come to an end, the hospital is closed, obliging patients to seek treatment in other surrounding areas,” Virgin Shamoon said.

Not everyone can afford them at the pharmacies

Shamoon, who resides in Alqosh, said whenever she visits their only hospital in the town, she returns empty-handed. “They say go and buy medicines outside the hospital, but not everyone can afford them at the pharmacies. The prices are expensive and outweighs people’s financial abilities.”

She told KirkukNow that besides medicine, they also purchase other protective materials at the local pharmacies because neither humanitarian organizations, nor the government have provided them with protective supplies, particularly facemasks and gloves.

Nineveh, civil defense teams are spraying disenfection, 2020. Photo: Media Office of Alqosh Comission

The coronavirus cases are on the rise across Iraq and still partial lockdown is enforced, which has exposed the town to a greater risk than before.

Badir Amanuil, head of the health office in Alqosh, said that, “we are faced with a shortage of medical supplies due to the lockdown. Later, a small amount of medical supplies was sent to the town with the support of local authorities.”

Since the spread of the COVID-19 in Iraq in February, a small quantity of medicines was sent to Alqosh from Tal Kaif. “the amount of medicine allocated to Alqosh is really insufficient, we have already kept asking in vain for the increase of the amount.”

The amount of medicine allocated to Alqosh is really insufficient

Head of the health office also said that medical protectives are inadequate to the degree that only the medical staff have been provided with face masks and gloves, adding that they were unable to distribute them over the people, who have instead bought them on their own.

“The problem is in the unjust employment policy of medical doctors and nurses; there are places where they have four to five medical doctors, but Alqosh has one, while it needs four. The same problem exists in Telskuf, another Christian sub-district in Nineveh plains, as well as its surrounding villages,” said Amanuil.

Despite the vulnerable health sector, the other service sectors are yet to be fully restored in the town, after they were damaged during fighting the Islamic State group (IS); such appalling conditions hamper the return of the people to the sub-district.

When IS took over Mosul in Mid-2014, the group offered the Christians three choices; convert to Islam, pay Jizyah [Islamic tax], or abandon their property and leave the city. Most of them chose displacement.

Federal and regional government statistics show that tens of thousands of Christian families have not been able to return home and still live in displacement. Besides that, thousands of Christian families, among them 24 thousand families from Nineveh have moved abroad.

7% of the total 787 thousand and 705 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Iraqi Kurdistan region is Christians.

“We knew that, God forbids, contracting the virus would be a disaster due to the lack of medical supplies and sufficient testing. Thus, we have fully complied with the medical instructions,” said Fidl Dawd, an Alqosh resident.

We have fully complied with the medical instructions

Dawd said that the shortage of medical supplies has existed even before the outbreak of the coronavirus. “75% of the prescriptions they write are unavailable at the hospital, and we have to purchase them at private pharmacies,” Dawd said, adding that they hardly manage to find hygiene and protective supplies.

No cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Alqosh, but in Nineveh province, as of now, 43 persons have contracted the virus, among them eight recovered.

Nineveh’s general health directorate has not sent us face masks and gloves to distribute them over people

Lara Yusuf, Alqosh commissioner, told KirkukNow that, “Nineveh’s general health directorate has not sent us face masks and gloves to distribute them over people. We have eventually received a thousand face masks from the health directorate of Duhok for the security forces only.”

She said “If someone contracts the virus in our sub-district, we will have to transfer him/her to Duhok.”

The local official said she is proud that the residents have fully complied with the measures to prevent the spread of the virus, among them, the traffic ban, social distancing and taking part in the disinfection campaigns.

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