Cairo: Whether in their home countries or abroad, several Arab doctors have lost their lives as they battled the global coronavirus pandemic. The highest death toll of Arab doctors has been recorded in Italy, one of the countries that has borne the brunt of the lethal virus.
At least seven Arab doctors are among a total of 107 medical professionals who have died so far of COVID-19 in Italy, according to the country’s Association of the Doctors of Foreign Origin (AMSI).
One such victim was Dr Nabeel Khair, a 63-year-old Palestinian doctor, who had lived in Italy for decades.
His death triggered an outpouring of tributes from his compatriots. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas mourned the death of Khair, a preventive medicine expert and the deputy head of the Palestinian community’s union in Europe.
Khair’s friend, MP Mohammad Ayash, said he had died while “doing his professional and humanitarian duty” for patients in Italy. “I was stunned and saddened by the death of the martyr Nabeel Khair, but God’s will is over all considerations,” said Ayash.
In many cases, such doctors have opted to remain on the frontlines of Europe’s coronavirus emergency even after being given the option of being repatriated back to their home countries.
Several Emirati and Saudi doctors are among those currently serving on the frontlines of battling the pandemic in the UK and Germany.
In Italy, four Syrians and a Lebanese physician were among the Arab doctors confirmed to have died in the fight against the ravaging virus. “They are martyrs who loved Italy, the country where they all happily lived with their families and gave a huge contribution to society with their medical and human skills without any fear,” said AMSI chief Dr Foad Aodi.
“They were family doctors, emergency doctors and dentists. They left sad families with sons and daughters. They will be remembered by city mayors, general managers and all the patients they helped during their careers in Italy,” Dr Aodi told Saudi newspaper Arab News.
Other Arab doctors who have died in Italy include Syrians Abdul Sattar Airoud, Abdul Gani Taki Makki, Ghvont Mrad and Samar Sinjab, Jordanian Tahsin Khrisat and Lebanese Nabeel Chrabie.
Sudanese doctors lose lives in Britain’s battle
In Britain, Amjad Al Hurani, and Adil Al Tayar, two Sudanese-born doctors, were among the country’s coronavirus-related medical fatalities. Having lived for long years in Britain and becoming British citizens, Al Hurani, 55, and Al Tayar, 64, still maintained strong links with the homeland, according to their relatives.
In 2010, Al Tayar went to Khartoum to set up an organ transplant facility, his son Othman said. “He wanted to give something back to the less fortunate in Sudan,” he told the BBC.
“He’d always reminisce about growing up in Sudan. He was very proud to be Sudanese”,” Al Tayar’s brother, Amal, said.
Al Hurani, an organ transplant consultant, and Al Tayar, an ENT specialist, worked at Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). Their role on the frontline against COVID-19 drew high appreciation in Britain. “We mourn the passing of our colleagues in the fight against COVID-19,” said Dr Salman Waqar, the secretary general of the British Islamic Medical Association. “They enriched our country. Without them, we would not have an NHS,” he added.
Died while doing national duty
With at least three medical deaths due to COVID-19 reported in Egypt, the country’s Doctors Association, an independent union, has called on the government to consider such fatalities “martyrs” and offer their families financial and moral compensation designated for victims of terrorism.
Earlier this month, Ahmad Al Lawah, a prominent pathologist, was among Egypt’s first medical professionals who have died of COVID-19. The 57-year-old man reportedly contracted the infection from a patient who underwent a test in Al Lawah’s lab in the Suez Canal City of Port Saeed.
After testing positive for the virus, Al Lawah isolated himself for nine days in his house. As his case deteriorated, he was transferred to a quarantine hospital in the neighbouring city of Ismailia where he died.
His last Facebook message to his followers was “stay at home” to help stop the spread of the virus.
His brother, Tareq, told Egyptian state television that Al Lawah did his “duty” towards the country. “My brother was like the heroes of Sinai, who sacrifice their lives while doing their duty,” Tareq added, referring to Egyptian security forces fighting terrorists in a relentless war in the country’s largely desert peninsula.
Did You Know: ‘European, Arab doctors part of same tradition’
In his prologue to The Canterbury Tales written in the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer identifies four Arab physicians as authorities for medical students to learn from: Jesu Haky (Bin Eisa), Razi (Al Razi, or Rhazes), Avycen (Bin Sina or Avicenna) and Averrois (Bin Rashid or Averroes). These Arab doctors were regarded as among the greatest medical authorities of the ancient world and the European Middle Ages, physicians whose textbooks were used in European medical schools, and would be for centuries to come. First collecting, then translating, then augmenting and finally codifying the classical Greco-Roman heritage that Europe had lost, Arab physicians of the 8th to 11th century laid the foundations of the institutions and the science of modern medicine.
The Arab and Islamic world housed some of the first and most advanced hospitals from the 8th century, notably in Baghdad and Cairo, with women doctors and nurses working there along with their male colleagues.
According to Professor Peter Pormann from the University of Manchester, too few people realise that European and Arab doctors were part of the same medical tradition, which played a pivotal role in the development of modern medicine. “Arabic was the scientific language, which united doctors 850 year ago and which contributed to a medical discourse that went beyond country and creed,” he said in a paper published by the university.
For instance, the minute clinical observations of the clinician Al Razi, who once used a control group to test a medical procedure, are a 850-year-old blueprint for how doctors work today. Al Razi, who ran the Baghdad hospital in the late 800s and early 900s, was the first author known to have written a book about children’s diseases. He also explained the difference between smallpox and measles: This helped doctors diagnose the diseases.
Similarly, Bin Sina (also known as Avicenna), wrote a huge medical encyclopaedia known as the Canon of Medicine. It collected the knowledge of ancient Greek and the Islamic world, and was used as the standard medical textbook for European doctors until the 17th century. Bin Nafis wrote about the circulation of blood around the body in the 13th century, 300 years before this was known in the West. And Al Zaharwi (Albucasis) wrote an encyclopaedia called Al Tasirif, which included a volume called ‘On Surgery’ — the first medical book to contain pictures of surgical tools.
This Saudi doctor is on a humanitarian mission
Saudi Arabian doctor Nasser Al Abdul Ali stands out in Italy’s uphill battle against coronavirus. The 28-year-old doctor went on a scholarship to Italy in 2012. After the Covid-19 outbreak in Italy, he opted to stay there to join others in combating the potentially fatal virus.
“My duty as a doctor is to offer assistance in these tough circumstances,” he told Saudi newspaper Sabq. “I also want to be the best ambassador for my country,” added Al Abdul Ali, who is working in the city of Lodi in Italy’s virus-stricken region of Lombardy. His decision not to join his country’s emergency plan to evacuate Saudis from Italy has earned him plaudits.
“Many people have told me that they thank me in the name of all Italians,” Al Abdul Ali said. “Many of them have expressed their interest in visiting Saudi Arabia after the pandemic is over.”
Al Abdul Ali is among the more than 5,000 Saudi doctors estimated to be on the front lines of the battle against Covid-19 around the world — including 1,345 in the United States, 1,155 in Germany, 736 in Canada, 302 in France and 108 in the United Kingdom.
Working for long hours at the hospital is not the toughest challenge facing the young Saudi doctor. “The toughest challenge is when I have to tell people that their loved ones have died at the hospital,” he told Sabq. “They would burst out crying. Others would be stunned and ask me to check again. Some others would ask for permission to hold a funeral for their dead relatives. But this is banned for fear of the spread of infection,” he said.
Al Abdul Ali noted that the high virus caseload in Italy has kept some health workers from going home and seeing their children for at least three weeks. “I frequently see all these agonising tales. Therefore, I urge everyone not to underestimate this disease in order not to reach this tragic situation,” he said.