SFAX, Tunisia (AP) – As Dr. Mohamed Salah Siala started working on the COVID-19 frontline in a Tunisian hospital in January, he never thought he could use his musical skills to fight the virus.
However, when the 25-year-old decided to get out and play his violin one day at Hedi Chaker Hospital in the town of Sfax, he was lauded for raising the morale of those infected with the virus who remained isolated and needed a smile.
The patient’s reaction was immediate – smiling, clapping, and some with their fists raised – and celebrating the impromptu “concert”. Some were surprised to discover that it was the doctor on the fiddle.
“Playing the music here helps the patient feel the pleasure and forget the pain,” said Rachid Arous patient, who is recovering from COVID-19. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
In his spare time outside of medical duties, Siala loves playing the violin and is a member of a group called the “Pepper Band”.
“My goal is to use music to treat corona patients (viruses) who are in poor mental health and suffer from loneliness – which is their first enemy,” Siala told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Siala now regularly plays in the hospital when he has time.
Siala’s music goes through the corridors with his violin, helping not only the patients but also the health workers. They have been under pressure in recent months as the number of virus-related hospitalizations increased at the beginning of the year.
However, there is more than the violin that brings hope to the North African country. Tunisia is showing signs that the virus is in decline. In the past few days, one of the lowest rates of new infections in several weeks has been recorded. According to the Ministry of Health, 725 new positive cases were detected in the population of nearly 12 million people on Thursday, while more than 4,100 new cases appeared in mid-January. Likewise, the death toll fell from a daily average of 70 to 35 – and the high of 103 deaths a month ago.
With the exception of the intensive care beds, which are still full, the oxygen beds are no longer as overcrowded as before, as many patients are cared for at home. 1,264 Tunisians are currently hospitalized – 287 of them in intensive care and 111 on ventilators.
The country is also expected to receive its first shipments of Pfizer BioNTech vaccines this month. These are part of a broader agreement with the global COVAX vaccination program for developing countries and the African CDC, which Tunisia hopes will bring in up to 7 million doses of vaccine in the coming months.
In the meantime, patients can count on Siala to bring hope and resilience with the movements of his bow.
“He plays almost every day to entertain us a little. I pray to God to protect him and I wish all of you that God protects you from this disease, ”said Brika Sdiri, clapping and smiling while listening to music. “I hope that I can leave this place in good health, that’s what I want.”
Bouazza Ben Bouazza contributed to this report from Tunis.
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