At least 23 people died when a fire broke out on Sunday in a coronavirus intensive care unit in the capital of Iraq, a country with dilapidated health infrastructure and facing growing cases of Covid-19.
The fire started with an explosion caused by “a failure to store oxygen cylinders,” medical sources told AFP.
The spread was rapid, according to the civil defense, because “the hospital had no fire protection system and the false ceilings allowed the flames to spread to highly flammable products”.
Iraqi hospitals are worn out by decades of conflict and little investment, with a shortage of drugs and hospital beds.
The incident sparked outrage on social media and the prime minister called for an investigation into the cause of the fire.
In the middle of the night, with dozens of relatives at the bedside of the 30 patients in the intensive care unit at Ibn al-Khatib hospital – reserved for the most serious cases of Covid-19 in Baghdad – the flames spread over several floors, he said. another medical source.
Videos on social media showed firefighters trying to extinguish the flames at a hospital on the southeastern outskirts of the Iraqi capital, as patients and their relatives tried to flee the building.
“Most of the victims died because they had to be removed and removed from the fans, while the rest were smothered by smoke,” said the civil defense.
The newspaper told the Iraqi state that its members “rescued 90 people from 120 patients and their relatives” at the scene, but were unable to provide an exact number of dead and wounded.
Medical and security sources told AFP that 23 people were killed and 50 others were injured in the fire.
The health ministry, which did not issue a statement until several hours after the fire, said it “saved more than 200 patients” and promised an official number of dead and injured later.
Minister of Health accused of negligence
The fire – which, according to several sources, was caused by negligence, often linked to Iraq’s endemic corruption – immediately sparked fury on the country’s social media, with a hashtag demanding that the Health Minister be dismissed as a trend on Twitter.
The governor of Baghdad, Mohammed Jaber, asked the health ministry “to establish a commission of inquiry so that those who have failed to fulfill their obligations are brought to justice”.
In a statement, the government’s human rights commission said the incident was “a crime against exhausted patients at Covid-19 who put their lives in the hands of the health ministry and its institutions and, instead of being treated, died in the flames “.
The commission asked Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi to dismiss Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi and “bring him to justice”.
Kadhemi responded by asking “an immediate investigation with those in charge of the ministry” and demanded that the “hospital director, chief of security and technical maintenance staff be sent to investigators and not be released until the culprits are brought to justice”.
He also declared three days of national mourning.
On Wednesday, the number of Covid-19 cases in Iraq exceeded one million, the highest in any Arab state.
The health ministry has reported 15,217 deaths since the country’s first infections were reported in February 2020.
She said she performs about 40,000 tests daily on a population of 40 million.
Patients who generally prefer to purchase oxygen tanks for treatment at home, rather than going to overcrowded and decaying hospitals.
The country launched its vaccination campaign last month and received almost 650,000 doses of different vaccines – most by donation or through the Covax program, which is helping low- and middle-income nations to acquire vaccines.
On Wednesday, 274,343 people received at least one dose, the ministry said.
Health officials faced an uphill battle to convince Iraqis to get vaccinated, in the face of widespread skepticism about the vaccine and the public’s reluctance to wear masks since the pandemic began.