COVID-19, life and death with the mobile brigade in Kyrgyzstan

By Ainhoa Larrea, IFRC

Arlen Matkasimov, a volunteer of the mobile brigade of the Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent, has been confronted with multiple life and death situations over the last months.

“Once, following an emergency call, I saw a patient with oxygen saturation 43, when it should normally be above 95. We did everything to save her life. She fought very hard, and in the end she survived. At moments like these, you realise how extreme reality can be.”

Kyrgyzstan reported its first cases of COVID-19 on 18 March 2020. The government imposed travel restrictions and curfews, shut down schools and universities, and asked people to work from home, declaring a state of emergency as infections and deaths soared.

Like in many countries around the world, the situation quickly spiraled out of control.

“It was sad to realise that our health system could not cope with such a large number of patients, and that many had to be treated at home because hospitals were full,” said Arlen. Helping people in such circumstances wasn’t easy.

“We have been doing everything in our power to get out of this pandemic horror together. But, to be honest, it has been difficult. I would not want this situation to happen in any country. People really needed support, medical services were overwhelmed.

“In winter, one day we had to go to the neighbouring region of Naryn. Our task was to deliver a seriously ill patient from there to Bishkek. It was very tough, two days without sleep,” explained Arlen.

However, he is delighted to be part of a such a critical team.

“I am proud that at such a difficult moment for the country and the whole world, I have been able to somehow help. I am happy that I have helped save people’s lives. Our patients are also someone's mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.”

“I began to appreciate more the time spent with my family. Far from home, you miss your family a lot. You want to see everyone, but you cannot. Because you are afraid to infect them. My family considered me a hero, as if I were at the frontline and fought.

Kyrgyzstan has registered more than 123,000 coronavirus cases and 2,000 deaths so far.

With support from the COVID-19 emergency appeal of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent has been carrying out wide-range of activities throughout the pandemic – from mobile brigades to vaccination services.

Mass immunisation represents a crucial challenge for the country, as less than 1 per cent of the population has been vaccinated to date: 54,000 people out of a population of more than 6.4 million.

Until more doses become available, Arlen calls for renewed attention to preventative measures.

“The virus can infect anyone, anywhere. It has not disappeared and won’t disappear soon. Do not think that it will not affect you simply because you are young and because you are not like others. Do not risk your only life and the lives of those close to you.”