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Polish Aid activities in the fight against Covid-19 in Iraqi Kurdistan

Over 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) stay in camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Most such camps are located in the Duhok Province. It is where the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia (KIK) runs its activities under the project titled Support in physiotherapy and  medical services for IDPs and refugees in Duhok and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. The initiative has been co-financed by the Polish Aid programme.

The Covid-19 pandemic hinders the delivery of medical aid. KIK and its local partner STEP-IN provide medicines within the framework of the basic healthcare system in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. They teach basic coronavirus prevention tips such as social distancing, avoiding mass gatherings, or observing hygiene rules, which is difficult in camp conditions. As part of delivering healthcare, both organisations also care for the most vulnerable IDPs – those who suffer from chronic diseases and thus are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. The camps’ inhabitants are not able to self-isolate or maintain the recommended physical distance. At the same time, face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) have become hardly available even for health workers.

What is more, families with low or, quite frequently, no income cannot purchase PPE on regular basis. Restrictions on movement within the camps have further reduced the already limited employment prospects. Shops in the camps and those nearby have been closed down and in practice it is impossible for the inhabitants  to buy personal protective equipment. In order to lower the risk of the pandemic spread, KIK launched the production of reusable masks. Thirty seven women from the Dawoodia camp and the village of Sharya, where medical clinics operate, were employed on ‘the first-come, first-served’ basis. The initiative attracted much of the local community’s attention.

Photo: The Club of Catholic Intelligentsia

The women received training, necessary equipment and materials to accomplish the task. Each of them was supposed to sew several hundred masks. To date, 7,490 masks have been sewn. The work is underway and, according to KIK, the project aims to produce 20,000 masks. They will be distributed in both the Dawoodia camp and the village of Sharya. Each person will receive two masks.

Distribution of the masks will be accompanied by an information campaign on how to use them properly and how to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. The objective of the initiative to sew and distribute face masks is not only to prepare the camps’ inhabitants for future waves of the pandemic. It is also to create jobs for women, enable them to acquire new skills, and earn a living.

The project is conducted under the Polish MFA development cooperation programme. In the  Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Polish Aid funds are also used by the Polish Medical Mission which provides health and dental care for the inhabitants of Baharka, Qshtapa and Harshan refugee camps.

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