Iraq: At least 27 dead and 46 injured in coronavirus hospital fire

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A fire has killed at least 27 people in an intensive care unit for Covid-19 patients in Iraq, the Arab country with the most coronavirus infections and a dilapidated health system for decades.

Oxygen cylinders “stored without safety precautions” were the source of this devastating fire., medical sources told the French Agency. Another painful ordeal for the country of 40 million people whose health system has never recovered after four decades of wars.

In the middle of the night Saturday through Sunday, when dozens of relatives were at the side of “thirty patients in this intensive care unit” of Ibn al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad for the most serious illnesses of Covid-19, flames spread to the floors. a medical source was reported.

“The hospital did not have a fire protection system and the false ceilings allowed the fire to spread to highly flammable materials”, for its part, the Civil Protection stressed, adding that many victims died of suffocation from the smoke.

Videos posted on social media showed firefighters trying to put out the blaze amid a crowd of patients and relatives trying to escape the building in the southeastern suburbs of Baghdad.

Medical and security sources told AFP that 23 people had been killed and about 50 injured.

Reuters, citing medical sources at three nearby hospitals, said at least 27 people had been killed and 46 injured.

Civil Protection stressed that it managed to “rescue 90 people out of the 120 sick and relatives” who were at the scene, without disclosing the exact numbers of dead and injured.

This negligent fire, often linked to endemic corruption in Iraq, sparked immediate reactions, with the hashtag “Resignation of the Minister of Health” topping the list on Twitter in Iraq.

It is a “crime” denounced by the government’s Human Rights Committee. “Against the patients who fell ill with Covid-19, who put their lives in the hands of the Ministry of Health and instead of being cured, died of the flames.”

In a statement, the commission called on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Qadimi to oust Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi and “bring him to justice”.

The governor of Baghdad, Mohamed Jaber, called on the “Ministry of Health to conduct an investigation to bring to justice those who did not do their job.”

The Iraqi prime minister responded by announcing “an immediate investigation with ministry officials.” He demanded that “the hospital director, the head of security and the team responsible for the technical maintenance be made available to the investigators without being released before those responsible are brought to justice”.

Until the early hours of the morning, when the Civil Protection announced that it had brought the fire under control, the Ministry of Health had not made any public announcement, nor did it give an account.

Covid-19 cases exceeded one million on Wednesday in Iraq, which lacks medicines, doctors and hospitals, but the country, probably due to its population, one of the youngest in the world, has a relatively low death toll from the disease. .

Officially 1,025,288 Iraqis have been infected since the country’s first confirmed coronavirus outbreak in February 2020, of which 15,217 have died.

The Ministry of Health reports that it conducts about 40,000 tests daily, a very low percentage in a country with many cities with more than two million inhabitants.

To avoid hospitals, patients often prefer to install an oxygen cylinder in their homes.

In early March, a reluctant vaccination campaign was launched in the country where the population, who have been avoiding the use of the mask since the beginning of the pandemic, remains very skeptical about vaccines.

Of the approximately 650,000 doses of different vaccines – almost all received through donation or through the international Covax program – about 300,000 have already been given, according to the Ministry of Health.

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