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Expert Sources: Covid-19 in Syria’s sizzling summer heat

Ahmada Mohamedy Siogope talks about caring for people displaced by war, living in tents and dealing with Covid-19 in northeastern Syria’s sizzling summer heat.

It’s early summer in northeastern Syria and it’s already hot, pushing 35 degrees, when Ahmada Mohamedy Siogope starts his one-hour commute to work. The ICRC bus takes Ahmada and his colleagues from Al-Hasakah to the town of Al Hol, in northeastern Syria. Just outside of Al Hol, the bus pulls into a camp for 65,000 people displaced by conflict.

“It’s just 10 o’clock in the morning and it’s about 40 degrees outside,” says Ahmada, as he begins his shift as head nurse at an ICRC field hospital at the camp. “But this is the life in Al Hol.”

Ahmada took RCRC magazine along on a virtual tour, sharing some of his daily duties by recording short video segments on his cell phone and by speaking with us after work via computer as part of our Expert Sources series.

“With Covid, we are having challenges,” he tells us. “You can imagine living in the tent when it’s plus-50 degrees. It’s too hot and people don’t have any air-conditioning or fans to keep them comfortable. So you have a lot of challenges of children with a lot of dehydration.”

Summer temperatures here can reach upwards of 50 degrees Celsius, making isolation and social distancing particularly hard for camp residents.

‘Double heating’

“Especially with Covid, you have high fever,” he notes. “And then in the heat is too high, so you are double heating. The sun is burning you and your body temperature is too high. That is why now in the isolation centre [built by the ICRC in Spring 2020], we have put in air conditioning to cool down the place.”

Well before the first cases of Covid-19 arrived at the camp, the ICRC, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other organizations began raising awareness about how people could protect themselves from this highly infectious disease. More handwashing stations were installed; masks and other protective clothing was handed out; information was printed and distributed, among other things.

But the high temperatures also made it far harder for people to remain isolated inside their tents. “When you have fever probably you have to come outside the tent and be outside at least to get fresh air,” he notes. “And this is worrying in the time of Covid.”

Roughly 80 per cent of the people in the Al Hol camp are women and children and many of them have pre-existing conditions, exacerbated by the conditions caused by years of conflict and displacement.

“We have a lot of patients with these kinds of respiratory infection problems,” he says. “We have a lot of children with asthma, and a few cases of TB also. We are receiving over 100 a day of these kind of patients with lung problems, both children and adults.”

“And when COVID-19 hits, it goes straight to the lungs.”

How does Ahmada deal with working in these tough conditions far from his own home in Finland? He says the kindness and fortitude of the people in the camp, as well as his own professional experience, help keep him focused.

“I am a health professional; I’ve been in health profession for a long time now. And apart from that, I like working with the people. And the people here are really lovely. Always I ask myself, ‘what is the purpose of life?’ and then I came out here just to find out that the purpose of life is just to help somebody.”

“Especially with Covid-19, you have high fever. And then the heat is too high, so you are double heating. The sun is burning your and the body fever is too high.”
Ahmada Mohamedy Siogope, head nurse at an ICRC field hospital at the Al Hol camp in northeastern Syria.

Head nurse Ahmada Mohamedy Siogope takes a selfie inside the emergency room at the ICRC field hospital in Al Hol, Syria. Many children at the camp suffer from lung-related pre-existing conditions or even conflict-related injuries that leave them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

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