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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KABUL: Security guards at several hospitals in Afghanistan usually allow ambulances in after a brief check, especially in emergency cases, as medical personnel race against time to save the lives of those brought in. But this normal protocol has become a matter of grave concern as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials said around 256 healthcare workers had become infected in hospitals since the virus began to spread in early March.
“These personnel have dealt with lots of patients daily in the regional hospital, the virus is the environment, and that is how they have been contaminated,” Dr. Ehsanullah Fazli, head of Kunduz province’s health department, told Arab News.
One of the worst affected places is Kunduz Regional Hospital (KRH), in Afghanistan’s northeast.
The province, which has a population of more than 350,000, serves as the country’s primary bread basket. It has also been a regional Taliban stronghold for a long time and witnessed deadly fighting for many years, with war casualties and other patients from Kunduz and adjacent provinces being treated at KRH.
Dozens of health workers at this hospital who have contracted the virus are either in isolation at home or under quarantine in a separate, 50-bed hospital designated for COVID-19 patients.
Ehsanullah said 23 out of 37 infected patients at Spin Zar hospital were KRH medical personnel.
Spin Zar, which was run in the past by Médecins Sans Frontières, was in the headlines in 2015 after it came under massive bombardment from the US military, killing dozens of patients including some local medical personnel.
Now it is in the news again after officials said infected health workers outnumbered actual patients at Spin Zar.
Dr. Naeem Mangal, chief of KRH, told Arab News that the lack of experience and facilities for medical staff to conduct rapid coronavirus tests on arrival was a national problem, and not one limited to Kunduz.
He said that a shortage of medical personnel – with nearly 70 of them either at home or in Spin Zar quarantine – meant it was advisable for all health workers at KRH to undergo a coronavirus test at the earliest opportunity to limit the spread of infection.
In Ghazni province between five to 10 war casualties are brought in for treatment, thereby increasing the spread of the virus among patients and medical staff, according to Zahir Shah Nekmal, who is director of the provincial health department.
The coronavirus death toll includes four doctors among the 85 who have lost their lives to the disease in Afghanistan so far, with the next of kin also becoming infected in some cases.
Ehsanullah’s brother, Dr. Assadullah Fazli, died in eastern Kunar nearly two weeks ago after contracting the disease.
“I have suffered enormously with his loss and know the pain of both - families who have lost their dear ones and the medical personnel fighting this disease,” Ehsanullah said. “On the one hand, I cry for the death of my brother, and on the other, I have to remain at the frontline for the treatment of people. I urge people to listen to the recommendations of doctors and observe the lockdown.”
Eirkan Faryabi, a 27-year-old nurse, said he became infected in a hospital in northwestern Faryab province while in the isolation ward testing patients suspected to have coronavirus.
He transmitted the disease to his brother and a cousin before being placed under quarantine in the same ward with other patients.
“After recovering, I will restart my job and go to help people again,” he told Arab News. “This is my duty as a medical staff, Afghan and Muslim. We all have to join hands to defeat the virus.”
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