Senegalese doctors, cemetery workers battle COVID-19 surge

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At Dalal Jamm hospital in Dakar, only the whooshing sound of a ventilator and beeps from a monitor indicated that the pregnant COVID-19 patient in the intensive care bed was still alive.

A few cubicles down, another woman was on oxygen after giving birth while sick with the coronavirus as a third wave threatened to overwhelm Senegal’s hospitals and some of its cemeteries.

“As soon as one leaves intensive care, either discharged or sadly dead, our treatment centre suggests another patient,” said Doctor Khady Fall, standing in the ward in full PPE.

“We are emotionally exhausted.”

Senegal, which until July had recorded fewer than 44,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,166 deaths, has registered more than 20,000 cases and 250 deaths since the start of July, according to health ministry figures.

The West African nation is not alone. Coronavirus-related deaths in Africa reached a record peak in the week that ended on Aug. 1, partly spurred by the highly transmissible Delta variant, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

“Africa is still on the crest of the third wave, still recording more cases than in any earlier peak,” WHO Africa official Phionah Atuhebwe told a press conference.

A short drive from the hospital in Dakar, grave-diggers at a Catholic cemetery have had to work into the night to keep up with the number of burials.

In the shadow of the capital’s massive “African Renaissance” monument, a corner of the cemetery was filled with freshly covered graves, while workers hacked into the earth nearby to create new plots.

The manager of a Muslim cemetery in Yoff district, Ibrahima Diassy, flipped anxiously through a hard-bound register that had logged an average of 30 burials per day compared with 20 before the latest COVID-19 surge.

Before the pandemic, the cemetery hosted just 10 funerals each day. “It’s really unbelievable,” Diassy said.

Photo: A Senegalese girl has her temperature checked as she enters the Madelleine clinic in Dakar, Senegal. EPA-EFE/ALIOU MBAYE