The emergency department of Tunisian capital’s Charles Nicolle Hospital is packed with patients who are sharing oxygen in rooms and even hallways.
Tunisia is struggling to cope with a comeback of the COVID-19 pandemic, with intensive care wards packed and doctors overworked by a sharp rise in cases and deaths after effectively managing the original wave of the epidemic last year.
“Doctors are exhausted since the hospital’s capacity has been exceeded,” Ahmed Ghoul, a nurse at Charles Nicolle, told Reuters. “Even the mortuary was packed, and we were unable to accommodate them.”
Tunisia recorded 157 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic. In all, it has reported around 17,000 deaths and 500,000 coronavirus infections.
“We are suffering, we urgently need oxygen, it (demand) has exceeded the stocks that we have,” said Dr Rym Hamed, head of the emergency department at Charles Nicolle.
Official fears that the already weak healthcare system would collapse under the strain prompted President Kais Saied to appeal for help from the international community.
That distress call is now being answered.
Arab countries promised help earlier this month. A Qatari field hospital has already arrived and this week planes from Egypt, Algeria, the UAE and Turkey touched down loaded with urgent medical aid and vaccines.
Saudi Arabia pledged to send 1 million doses of vaccine and important medical aid and Morocco to send 100 intensive care beds. France said it would send medical aid and about a million doses of vaccine to its former colony, while the United States also pledged 500,000 doses of vaccine.
The latest donation puts the total number of vaccine doses supplied to Tunisia to over 3.3 million, well behind several other countries. Only 750,000 people out of a total population of 11.6 million have been properly vaccinated so far.
For many people, assistance cannot come soon enough.
“My mother is in critical condition,” Laila, a Tunisian lady, said outside another hospital. “Oxygen is scarce… people perish every day as a result.”