SEATTLE, Washington — COVID-19 has forced much of the world into three stages of urgency in preventing the spread of the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines how these three stages escalate in severity. Level 1 “Watch” requires regular precautions. Level 2 “Alert” requires the implementation of heightened precautions. The last and most dangerous category, which Iraq falls under, is Level 3 “Warning” which indicates avoiding non-essential travel, including to public places and gatherings. COVID-19 in Iraq has been propelled primarily by the country’s severe lack of medical infrastructure.
Inaccurate reporting skews the Iraqi reality
Reuters explored the issue of the underreporting of COVID-19 cases in Iraq. The low number of cases was a misrepresentation of the true effects of the virus within the country. Contradicting information that contained much higher numbers came from anonymous reports from medical professionals working in Iraq. The numbers they estimated were far higher than the 722 confirmed cases and 54 deaths the health ministry had released. The medical professionals estimated that the true number of cases could range anywhere from 3,000 to as high as 9,000 cases.
An anonymous government official who spoke with Reuters described one of the major reasons for the lack of reporting. The source said that the Iraqi health ministry was concerned about the possible chaos as a result of high reported case numbers. They cited both the safety and availability of medical supplies as two of the potential major issues.
Level 3 on the ground
Border control: COVID-19 has hit Iraq’s neighbor Iran hard as well. Iran is also classified by the CDC as Level 3. With the death toll rising above 20,000, the crisis has grown significantly since the outbreak in February. The borders closed as a precaution to prevent the spread of the virus from country to country.
Internal migration: One of the major reasons for the recent spike in the Iraqi city of Baghdad was the migration of Iraqis to a holy Shiite shrine. According to Iraqi medical professionals, there were multiple positive cases near where the migrants were.
Iraqi COVID-19 response
COVID-19 cases in Iraq have risen by 40% as of June.
Hospitals are filling up with new patients.
Iraqis entered hospitals and took supplies including oxygen canisters in an effort to help suffering family members.
Separate locations are established to bury those who have died of COVID-19.
The medical infrastructure has not changed since the 1970s and cannot handle the burden of the pandemic.
Most cases are located in major cities, including Erbil, Baghdad and Basra.
Iraq’s lack of medical supplies, infrastructure and number of available hospital beds are the leading causes for the growing COVID-19 crisis. The issue of internal migration and Iraqis returning from out of the country continues to spread the virus, even with the Level 3 classification requiring no non-essential travel. The hope is that closing borders to other places with high COVID-19 cases will help slow the spread of the virus. However, it remains to be seen how Iraq will manage its medical response in the latter half of the year.
– Kiahna Stephens