Interview: “Social distancing is impossible” – Doctor working in Al-Hol camp on Corona prevention measures


Interview with Ahmed*, doctor working at the medical point inside Al-Hol camp. The interview was carried out on 28 July 2020.

Which Coronavirus measures have been set up in Al-Hol camp?

Several humanitarian actors have collectively set up an isolation section inside the camp for possible suspected cases. At the camp’s main gate, a nurse checks anyone entering the camp, controlling the temperature and any potential symptoms. If any symptoms are noticed, the person would be referred to the doctor in the main medical point where we will further diagnose the symptoms and decide about next steps. if they are Corona symptoms, the person will be referred then to the isolation section here. We have a special ambulance to transfer any reported case. Additionally, all employees here must wear protection equipment, masks, and gloves. Sometimes we lack this Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We also disinfect our medical points twice a day in the morning and at the end of workday.

We mainly receive support from the WHO with assistance from few other organisations. They prepared these sections. We have one tent for suspected cases in which PCR tests are conducted, and another two tents for confirmed cases to be fully isolated. A special team comes from Hasakah to take the sample and test whether it is Corona or not, and which then informs us.

Once the suspected case is confirmed, the patient is sent to the isolation section here. Regarding the isolation procedure, we follow the WHO protocol: if it is a mild case we keep them here in the isolated tent, but if we have a very severe case the patient needs to be referred to the KRC hospital in Hasakah where he or she can receive intensive care and ventilators. We also have a hotline for any suspected cases in other medical points. They call us and we bring the patient here for further checks. Our teams using the ambulances are fully equipped with special protection clothes.

Is the protocol in place the same for the Iraqi/Syrian camp sections as for the foreigners annex?

Yes it’s the same because they are all humans. The virus knows no distinctions.

Is everything now completely ready, or do you still need more preparations?

For further preparations, we must provide a shelter at the gate to allow the workers to stay there permanently without being exposed to the sun. Also the isolation centre needs to be improved as it’s only simply equipped. We also need more disinfection items, of course, mainly the PPE.

If there are Corona cases, what might be the impact?

People live very closely to each other, social distancing is not possible. Tents are very close, and the people living here visit each other continuously. This would quickly spread the virus. Also, it’s difficult to force people to stay inside their tent for 14 days, it’s not the same as keeping people inside a normal house. We hope no cases will happen, since the camp is already isolated. However, we will try to put more strict procedures and more training in the camp.

* Name changed in order to protect the identity of the interviewee.