The deaths of two pregnant women working in Gabes Regional Hospital from the “swine flu” virus have prompted controversial reactions from family members, colleagues, and unionists.
Najwa Zammali, a nurse working in children’s section, died on February 16 from the H1N1 virus. Sourour Retal, a secretary in the radiology department, died two days later.
Sleh Bisheikh, the general manager of the hospital, confirmed to Tunisia Live that both women had contracted H1N1, more commonly known as swine flu.
Retal’s husband said his wife had been infected by patients and blamed authorities for not providing protective equipment and vaccinations for the staff working in the hospital, according to Tunisian newspaper Assabah Al Ousboui.
“I have received medicines only after the death of my wife,” he told the newspaper.
Retal’s husband was not the only one to blame authorities; unionists from the hospital were also upset by the situation.
Unionists organized a strike yesterday to express their anger toward the Ministry of Health, which they said has not taken necessary steps to deal with the H1N1 virus.
Faisal Kady, a union member who participated in the strike, said that the union’s Secretary General, Dhekir Abdennaji, was also infected by swine flu after spending time at the hospital to show solidarity for nurses and doctors, according to Assabah Al Ousboui.
Staff in the hospital supported the strike and asked to be provided with medicine and vaccinations to protect them from contracting the virus.
Itisam Mahjoubi, Bisheikh’s secretary, told Tunisia Live that the hospital has created a crisis center to deal with the “disaster,” which is endangering the lives of the staff working in the hospital. Abdelhamid Othmen, a nurse at the hospital, said the facility in Gabes was marginalized from the health care system at large.
According to Tunisian news agency (TAP), the Ministry of Health stated that the situation in Gabes was not exceptional or disastrous and that the strike would not help the problem.
“Between 10 and 40 deaths from the flu are reported each year,” the ministry told TAP, adding that “pregnant women remain the most vulnerable.”
The ministry recommends strengthening health and prevention, particularly through hand washing and the use of paper towels, and advises people to keep their distance from those with colds. It further urges the elderly, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases to get the flu vaccine.