Portraits of Moldova’s healthcare workers on the front lines of Covid-19

Photographer Alex Iordache questions the hypocrisy of celebrating hospital services while underfunding them

25 August 2020

When Moldovan photographer Alex Iordache photographed medical staff leaving hospital after work, he wanted to highlight the risks that frontline workers were pushed to take during the coronavirus pandemic.

His project, Cornered, challenges the common narrative of celebrating medical staff during Covid-19 as heroes — without providing the help and support necessary for them to do their jobs.

“We cornered them, grasping them tightly, unfairly,” Iordache says. “These frontline fighters are going through a real detention. Overnight, they were turned into detainees, persecuted and defied by a disease, which is greater than all of us and all our knowledge. They can’t see their mothers. Their children. They remain isolated from their loved ones and are fighting against death. They endure the heat and the inability to breathe through those thick masks and special costumes, working in long shifts.”

One of Iordache’s subjects, medical assistant Ana Botnaru, was crying as she was leaving work. She said two patients had died in her ward that day. Wiping away her tears, she said that she didn’t want to appear as a whiner in photos.

But other doctors took a more pragmatic approach. Adrian Belîi, who runs the anaesthetic and intensive care unit at the Emergency Medicine Institute in Moldova’s capital city Chișinău, told Iordache that doctors without PPE were forbidden from entering a patient’s room even in an emergency. After all, the infection of one doctor means that other medical staff will get infected, and fewer patients will get hospital treatment as a result.

Another doctor refused to be photographed, fearing for his safety following death threats he received after giving bad news to the families of patients who had died from coronavirus.

Like in other countries, the coronavirus pandemic has brought to light systemic inadequacies of Moldova’s underfunded health system. Since February, Moldova has seen 33,377 official cases of coronavirus, and 908 dead. In May, the country had one of the highest rates of infected medical staff in the world — 25 per cent — although this rate has since fallen to 15.5 per cent. The country’s minister of health, Viorica Dumbrăveanu, blamed doctors for inappropriate “individual protective measures” and “not disposing of their equipment correctly”. In return, in viral videos, medical staff accused the government of failing to provide adequate personal protective equipment.

The Moldovan authorities lifted most lockdown restrictions on 15 June after three months, despite the fact that the infection rate was, and still is, following an upward slope.

Iordache is crowdfunding the costs to place large copies of his photographs in public spaces in Chișinău.

You can donate to his project here.

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