iraqi middle east

The Iraqi Women Volunteers Fighting COVID-19 At Home

Testing for the virus, providing moral support and sewing masks at home: In Iraqi Kurdistan, females are finding different routes to combat the coronavirus.

By Renas Saleh

Local nurse Nicar Amin, 40, carries boxes of medication, an oxygen meter and COVID-19 tests towards the ambulances parked outside the Health Directorate in Sulaymaniyah, a city in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Scared locals often call the emergency helplines here and quarantine is difficult for many of them, especially those facing severe financial difficulties.

Amin is trying to help those people. Together with her colleagues, she takes a car to the homes of people who think they have caught the coronavirus. When her crew arrives, they test the person who thinks they are sick and then give advice to family members as to how to take care of their relative. They often also give extra oxygen to those who need it and later on, they will inform the family about the tests results.

Amin has been working in the health sector in Sulaymaniyah for years, most recently as a pharmacy assistant. When the pandemic started, she decided to help as much as she could.

 “We didn’t know what was happening to us and there was no accurate information about COID-19 back then,” Amin recalls the early days of the pandemic; the first case of COVID-19 in Iraq was recorded in February in southern Iraq and was most likely imported from neighbouring Iran. “Some colleagues were afraid to return to work but most of us decided to carry on. We have kept working ever since.”

Numbers from the local health authorities suggest that, over the course of 2020, around 2,600 medical personnel were infected with COVID-19. Sixty died because of it.

The team would travel out together, to knock on people’s doors, giving them medical advice and telling them they were strong than the virus.

Amin has been given several awards for her dedication and the way that she has kept going, helping those who are sick and afraid during the year. She is one of the few women who carried out field tests for the virus in this region.

During the peak of summer in Iraq, when infections were rising quickly, teams of female health workers formed and volunteered to check on people who thought they were infected. One such group of 15 volunteers came from the Technical Institute of Kalar, in the Garmayan district. Seven of the team’s members were female and they would travel out together, to knock on people’s doors, giving them medical advice and telling them they were strong than the virus.

“We succeeded in helping many people and we may return to this work if the number of infections continues to rise,” says Bakhshan Latif, a professor in the Technical Institute’s nursing department.

Another woman who has assisted during the health crisis is Zaribar Hurami, the owner of a factory producing military clothing.

When the pandemic began, it became clear that Iraq would have a problem obtaining enough medical face masks for its citizens – the country imports them.

Hurami was quick to devote her factory to the manufacturing of masks and protective clothing. Soon her factory was producing 15,000 masks a day and Hurami says she was trying to provide as much of this needed product as possible, at low prices.

“Our prices are lower than those for imported products because there are no import or transportation costs,” she explains. “And I was even happier because I was able to provide a lot of young people – and a lot of young women actually – with employment.” Hurami also donated 25,000 masks to local hospitals and security forces.

Iraqi volunteers with shipment of medical goods. Source: WHO

Elsewhere local women also began sewing masks at home and distributing them for free. Wealthier citizens have donated material and other supplies for the mask-making volunteers.

A third Iraqi Kurdish woman, Shanka Abdul-Rahman, has contributed in a  different way. She is a laboratory assistant and, during the first lockdown, decided to walk the streets disinfecting residential areas and market spaces in the early mornings. She would walk around with 20 litres or more of disinfectant on her back and often worked more than 10 hours a day as a volunteer with the local health authority.

“I am capable of fighting this virus and if I do not do my duty, then who will,” the young woman explains her motivation.