| Coronavirus forces much-needed upgrade of Tunisia’s neglected public hospitals

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– After a month of lockdown, Tunisian hospitals have not so far suffered the
overcrowding some feared from coronavirus – but the pandemic has forced a
much-needed upgrade of public facilities, medics say.

The intensive care ward at
Abderrahmane Memmi hospital near Tunis – where the most serious Covid-19 cases
are treated – has received a total of 29 patients since the start of the
pandemic in March, 11 of whom have died.

In total Tunisia has reported 38
deaths from the respiratory disease, a toll that has remained stable in recent

Since the critical care unit at
Abderrahmane Memmi was reserved for coronavirus patients, there have been fewer
patients than usual.

“Compared to March, there
are fewer appointments, fewer patients arriving in a serious condition or
otherwise, fewer emergency calls and house calls,” said the deputy head of
the facility Jalila Ben Khelil, a doctor who also sits on the government’s
scientific commission.

She lauded the country’s lockdown
measures, describing them as “courageous”, and said research was
under way to see what factors had driven a stabilisation of the figures.

Ben Khelil noted that
epidemiological data indicated that the situation was being brought under
control, but cautioned that “we cannot say we have passed the peak”.

‘Repeatedly sounded the alarm’

Samia Ayed, a doctor working in
intensive care, said “we have been well equipped with protective
gear” and specialist equipment.

However, Ayed acknowledged that
“we are not equipped for thousands of sick patients”.

After logging fewer than 1 000
cases since the start of March, the government has declared that the lockdown
will be eased from 4 May.

Mohamed Besbes, who runs the
Abderrahmane Memmi facility, sounded a cautious note.

“It is very difficult to
analyse the situation, and reducing the lockdown will have to be very
incremental,” he said.

For Ben Khelil, the coronavirus
pandemic has forcibly engineered a much-needed upgrade to the public health

“In recent years, we
repeatedly sounded the alarm” about the deficiencies of the public health
system, she said, as the country navigated a near-decade-long democratic

“The upgrading of certain
hospitals, the equipment we have been able to acquire, the (improved) behaviour
of health professionals… will surely have a positive impact on health”,
she noted.

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