Working with the Yezidi in the time of COVID-19: Part Two

Health promoter Alice Higginson has recently returned from assignment in Iraq. She shares a dispatch from quarantine...

Night sky

This was written two weeks after Alice’s first post. To read the first post, click here.


Living and working here in Sinuni, no day is ever the same. I am now back in quarantine, as two of my team and housemates have suspected COVID. With only brief, mild symptoms, they now reside, begrudgingly, in the caravan outside our house.  

We are a team of seven international staff at present, two in the caravan, and the rest confined to the compound. With all of us in quarantine, we are attempting to provide remote support to our Iraqi colleagues in running the hospital whilst we also spray everything in sight with 0.1% chlorine and a healthy dose of sarcasm.

Building understanding

Prior to this quarantine, work life was just as hectic and diverse as ever. When the quarantine started I was two days into an anthropological assessment of COVID in the surrounding Arab and Yezidi villages.

There is a lot of misinformation spread online, with false treatments and rumours even being promoted by unscrupulous medical professionals

The aim of the assessment was to learn more about local beliefs around COVID, the challenges people face and the rumours they have heard, as well as the impact the virus is having here.  As part of this I had the incredible opportunity to interview traditional birth attendants, community and religious leaders, youth centre and medical staff.

This was a slightly surreal moment for me: I never quite imagined that three years in rainy Manchester as an anthropology undergraduate would be such a useful experience.

Fighting rumours

Alongside the assessment, we are preparing to launch a digital health promotion campaign that can sate the hungry appetite people have for social media here, where news spreads on Facebook faster than COVID in Cancun spring break.  

There is a lot of misinformation spread online, with false treatments and rumours even being promoted by unscrupulous medical professionals. The beliefs that gloves immunise against COVID and garlic will protect you highlight the urgent need to reach those who are fearful to come to the hospital or simply cannot.

But we are lucky that we live in an age where technology divides us less than it once did, and with the digital campaign we are planning, I hope to tap into its potential to influence and engage communities.

Moving forward

Moving forward, our objective (from the comfort of quarantine) is now to ramp up our activities, and to move to “Phase 1 COVID emergency”.  

We want to understand if we have the capacity to move beyond simply stabilising patients, to begin to treat people with COVID as these numbers (in correlation with the number of infected military personnel travelling around the country) continue to soar. We are evaluating what activities we need to introduce, which ones we may need to suspend or cut, and when we have simply reached the limitations of what we can do? Easy, right?

I’m sitting on the floor of my housemate’s bedroom/office. It is five o'clock and the mountain view is drenched in a golden sun I will sorely miss when I finish my assignment here. We are seeking out the good in every day here and basking in the small victories.


N.B. Since the time of writing, the rate of infection in northern Iraq has, thankfully, dropped.

You can read Alice's next post here.


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