— Health

Anger swells in Iraq after fire at Baghdad COVID-19 hospital kills 82 people

A fire ravaged a COVID-19 hospital in Iraq’s capital, killing 82 people pre-dawn Sunday, sparking angry calls for officials to be sacked in a country with long-dilapidated health infrastructure. Many victims were on respirators when the blaze at Baghdad’s Ibn al-Khatib hospital started with an explosion caused by “a fault in the storage of oxygen cylinders”, medical sources told AFP. Flames spread quickly across multiple floors in the middle of the night. A medical source said that dozens of relatives were at the bedsides of the 30 patients in the hospital’s intensive care uni,t where the most severe COVID-19 cases are treated. “The hospital had no fire protection system, and false ceilings allowed the flames to spread to highly flammable products,” Iraq’s civil defense arm said.

The country’s human rights commission called on the prime minister, who has suspended several officials, to fire Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi and “bring him to justice”, as anger swelled on social media.

At least 23 deaths were reported by medics in the fire’s immediate aftermath, with an official toll of 82 killed and 110 wounded announced later by the interior ministry.

Videos on social media showed firefighters battling to blaze as patients and their relatives tried to flee the building.


“It was the people (civilians) who got the wounded out,” Amir, 35, told AFP, saying he saved his hospitalized brothers “by the skin of his teeth”.

Iraq’s hospitals have been worn down by decades of conflict, poor investment, shortages of medicines, and hospital beds.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi called for an investigation into the cause of the blaze and declared three days of national mourning. Parliament announced it would devote its Monday session to the tragedy.

‘A crime against patients’

After daybreak, an AFP photographer said that dozens of tall oxygen cylinders that had been evacuated could be lined up outside the building, alongside gurneys and scattered debris.

More than 200 patients in all were rescued, according to the health ministry.

According to several sources, the fire – caused by negligence often linked to endemic corruption in Iraq – sparked anger, with a hashtag demanding the health minister be sacked trending on Twitter.

Baghdad Governor Mohammed Jaber called on the health ministry “to establish a commission of inquiry so that those who did not do their jobs may be brought to justice”. Coronaviruss patients killed in a hospital fire during their funeral at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq, on 25 April.” src=”https://sl.sbs.com.au/public/image/file/3703fd5d-9eb6-42c2-a9ac-7c6fbbc4525c” alt=”Mourners pray near the coffins of coronavirus patients killed in a hospital fire during their funeral at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq, on 25 April.” width=”700″ height=”467″ />

Mourners pray near the coffins of coronavirus patients killed in a hospital fire during their funeral at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq, on 25 April.

AP via AAP

In a statement, the government’s human rights commission said the incident was “a crime against patients exhausted by COVID-19 who put their lives in the hands of the health ministry and its institutions.

“Instead of being treated, (they) perished in flames,” it added.

One of the fire victims, Ali Ibrahim, 52, had been treated for COVID-19 at Ibn al-Khatib and was buried by his family on Sunday at Zaafaraniya, a neighborhood near the hospital.

“He had just spent 12 days in the hospital and was due to be discharged on Saturday evening after recovering. He was waiting for the result of the last COVID-19 test,” one of his relatives told AFP.

The prime minister suspended the health director for the eastern sector of Baghdad and the head of Ibn al-Khati,b and the hospital’s charges of security and technical maintenance teams. They are being questioned, and nobody, Mr. Kadhemi said, will be released “until those who have done wrong are brought to justice”.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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