EHS-COVID (399) Impact of COVID-19 on mental health of health workers (4)

11 June, 2021

COVID-19 resulted in significant mental health pressures on doctors and activists in Iraq and its Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

I am reporting in this submission on the plight of a colleague who is practicing medicine in Halabja province.

Dr Baxan Talabani, a general practitioner working in Halabja province, was arrested by the security forces on May 31st, 2021. Dr Baxan's 'crime' was that she exposed a number of gross irregularities and corruption related to the COVID-19 response. She used social media to post videos and other evidence of expired medicines, charging extra fees illegally and other irregularities. The feared security force of Asyaish (security in Kurdish) attached Dr Baxan that evening. Her ailing mother and student sister were terrorised by the force. Her two young children were traumatised.

The directorate of health in Halabja, sued Dr Baxan using 'an mobile phone abuse' law. She spent three days in a security force prison with terrorists and other criminals. After her release on bail, Dr Talabani received many death threats. She had to displace to another city to protect her life and the life of her family.

Halabja is a city that was attacked by chemical weapons on 1988 by the Saddam Hussain regime killing 5,000 people in minutes. The city is still traumatised by that attack and in grave needs for medical and public health services.

This horrible story shows that colleagues are facing significant challenges not only related to the trauma of seeing large numbers of patients for long hours, but also corruption and irregularities in the health system is also

creating other challenges.

Dr Baxan was not silenced by those threats and intimidations. Overnight, Dr Talabani became a national figure. All of the major news medias in the region hosted and interviewed her. We hope that Dr Talabani's activism will contribute to a better health system in Iraq.

However, such activism is not without significant toll on the mental and physical wellbeing of colleagues like Baxan. International support and solidarity with Baxan will help ease some of the unimaginable burden that she is so courageously shouldering on behalf of all us.

below are some of Dr Talabani's media appearances:

https://www.rudaw.net/sorani/onair/radio/episodes/episode/mizhar-0205202102

https://rojnews.news/%D9%83%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%AF%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86/%D...

https://cs-cz.facebook.com/RadioRudaw/videos/452313502501513/

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*Goran Zangana*

*MBChB, MPH, MRCP (UK), MRCPE, PhD*

Associate Research Fellow

Middle East Research Institute

Iraq country representative for HIFA

https://www.hifa.org/support/members/goran

Skype: gzangana

E mail: goran.zangana@meri-k.org

HIFA profile: Goran Zangana is a medical doctor and Associate Research Fellow with the Middle East Research Institute, Iraq. He is a HIFA country representative for Iraq and is currently based in the UK.

https://www.hifa.org/support/members/goran

goran.zangana AT meri-k.org