Tunisian authorities have deployed military personnel to vaccinate remote populations as coronavirus infections mount and hospitals struggle to copeBy MEHDI EL-AREM Associated PressJuly 18, 2021, 7:37 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKESRA, Tunisia — Soldiers hold rifles to guard the health center in the traditional Tunisian village of Kesra, while inside, military medics use other weapons to combat COVID-19: vaccines.Tunisia is facing its worst coronavirus surge since the pandemic began, further stressing the North African country’s already crowded hospitals and health system. That has forced some regions to go back into lockdown and prompted waves of donations of vaccines or medical aid from China, France, Turkey, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria.Tunisia’s government decided to deploy the armed forces to vaccinate people in the regions with the worst infection rates and in areas with particularly low vaccination rates.At the Kesra medical center this week, military doctor Riadh Allani said the turnout for shots “is satisfactory, but it is weak compared to the big cities where the news spreads quickly and people come.”“Here, many citizens face difficulties to reach the vaccination center, so we are ready to extend our stay to give an opportunity for everyone to come,” Allani told The Associated Press. He said the medics would with local authorities to vaccinate people at home, if necessary,Over the past month, confirmed cases in Tunisia have reached their highest daily numbers of the pandemic, but the nationwide vaccination rate remains low, according to data from John’s Hopkins University. Tunisia has reported Africa’s highest per-capita pandemic death toll and is currently recording one of the world’s highest daily per-capita infection rates, the data indicate.Military health workers vaccinated thousands of people in Kesra and other sites in the Siliana region in central inland Tunisia, mainly individuals over age 60 with underlying health conditions. The campaign in Kesra used Sinovac vaccines from China.The military said the medical deployment could be extended to other areas in the coming days. Tunisia’s president said the military would send helicopters to mountainous areas to bring vaccines to remote villages.Kesra resident Rafika Achour said she was summoned twice to get a vaccine, but had been skeptical about submitting to a shot.“When I heard of the arrival of the army, I decided to come for the vaccine because … for me, (the army) is more honest than others,” Achour said at the vaccination site.To encourage vaccination and build awareness, Tunisian President Kaies Saied got his first dose of the vaccine on Monday.Meanwhile, aid is arriving from near and far.The United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Algeria have sent hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses and medical supplies to Tunisia. A shipment of medical aid came in by sea from Italy on Friday. France this week promised another 800,000 COVID-19 vaccines, and China promised 400,000, according to Tunisia’s TAP news agency.As of Saturday, Tunisia had reported more than 17,000 deaths and more than 533,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins data.———Yesica Fisch in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.———Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
The situation is dire in the Tunisian town of KairouanBy MEHDI EL-AREM Associated PressJune 30, 2021, 11:18 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKAIROUAN, Tunisia — A man wearing a protective suit quickly yet carefully places a black sheet over a COVID-19 victim laid out in a coffin in a courtyard at Ibn Jazzar Hospital in the Tunisian town of Kairouan. He then folds a white sheet on top and sprinkles the body with disinfectant from a small bottle, while loved ones and other hospital visitors cry out “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” in Arabic.Patients in the hospital’s overfilled COVID-19 ward are dying daily amid a spike in coronavirus infections in the North African country, with Kairouan and three other regions especially hard hit. At the regional hospital, tensions mount as personnel try to cope with scarce means.“I’m shocked,” said Sana Kraiem, whose mother was put in a wheelchair in a roomful of COVID-19 patients, “like a dog”, she described.“They told me they can’t free up a bed occupied by a dead person,” a distressed Kraiem said in an interview with The Associated Press during a visit this week to the hospital.The half-dozen rooms devoted to COVID-19 patients each packs in five or six beds. A patient who recently died was seen still occupying one of the beds in each room visited. A special service eventually removes the body.Over the past month, confirmed virus infections in Tunisia have reached the highest daily levels since the pandemic began, but the vaccination rate remains low, according to data from John’s Hopkins University. Tunisia has reported Africa’s highest per-capita death toll from the pandemic, and is currently recording one of the highest per-capita infection rates in Africa, the data indicates.The Kairouan region is living through “a real horror movie,” Mohamed Rouis, the regional health director in Kairouan, was quoted saying in Tunisian media earlier this month.A temporary hospital has been set up on the outskirts of the city. The army has also bolstered that with a military care facility under a green tent which houses a line of beds with monitoring equipment and respirators. Despite the dire situation, there is no widespread testing for COVID-19 in the poor, rural region.The Ibn Jazzar hospital’s supervisor, Zohra Hedwej, explained that goodwill gestures by officials end up as frustrating half-measures, such as opening a section for coronavirus patients, without making provisions for medical staff.“We resort to recruiting workers from other departments in the hospital,” Hedwej told the AP. “It’s very difficult to find volunteers because some don’t know the level of their (own) physical immunity, others fear for their relatives who have weak immunity. We want a stable workforce that is able to work.”Hedwej said there is such a dearth of trained personnel that sophisticated equipment can’t be used at times.“We need labor more than we need new equipment,” she said, adding that while equipment comes from donors — who are still needed — there is still a greater need for trained professionals “who can use it and take care of it.”Facing an “alarming” growth in infections, the Tunisian government on Tuesday extended an overnight curfew and ordered stepped-up vaccination efforts in rural areas. But it resisted calls for a national lockdown because of public frustration at the economic impact on a population that’s already struggling with unemployment and economic decline.Tunisia has reported more than 14,000 virus-related deaths amid its population of 12 million since the pandemic began, with more than 400 infections per 100,000 people in four regions, including Kairouan, where hospitals are over capacity.———Bouazza ben Bouazza in Tunis, and Elaine Ganley, in Paris, contributed to this report.