Coronavirus: Mother and newborn separated by closed Iran-Iraqi border

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Clutching her tablet in her lap, Rafiqa Ibrahim Radi, an Iraqi mother of three, tears up while watching videos of her newborn son Seif. Lying in a neonatal incubator, the premature baby sneezes at the camera while a medical worker affectionately calls out his name.

It has been more than a month since the mother last saw her son. Not knowing when they will be reunited makes the situation even harder to bear.

The 33-year-old from Basra faced a difficult pregnancy with life-threatening complications. Medical staff at her local Basra hospital advised her to seek treatment in Iran.

Upon her arrival at the Ahli hospital, in the Iranian city of Ahvaz, doctors decided to perform a C-section immediately and Seif was born on February 6, 2020, three months before his due date.

Rafiqa remained at her newborn’s side for 20 days, until the medical staff advised her to return to Basra while Seif recovered in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Rafiqa was told that as long as Seif remained in the incubator, there was not much she could do at his side.

Back home, Rafiqa anxiously waited with her husband Ahmad Taleb and their two other sons, Hassan (12) and Abdallah (9) for Seif’s condition to improve. Seif’s treatment at the hospital involves considerable costs for the family, around $100 USD per day.

About two weeks ago, the family finally received the good news: Seif was strong enough to make the trip back to Iraq. But by then, the border between Iran and Iraq had already shut down due to both governments’ efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Since the border closure on March 8, 2020, the two-hour car drive from Basra to Ahvaz had become impossible.

Rafiqa has been under shock since. Her husband Ahmad is trying his best to get a special permission to cross the border. After almost two weeks, he has made some progress: the Basra authorities granted their approval for the transfer. Now, Ahmad is seeking permission from Iran, through the Iranian consulate.

A nurse at the Ahli hospital is sending video diaries to the family on an almost daily basis, documenting the progresses made by Seif. But these testimonies are also a painful reminder of what Rafiqa is missing and of the distance that the coronavirus has put between her and her son.

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