Calls in Iraq for the resignation of officials have increased after the death in the middle of the night on Sunday of at least 23 people in a fire at a hospital dedicated to COVID-19 in a country with a decades-old health system .
The fire started from oxygen cylinders “stored without respecting security conditions” at the Ibn al-Khatib hospital in Baghdad, medical sources told AFP.
A fire caused, according to these sources, by negligence, often linked to endemic corruption in Iraq, a country of 40 million inhabitants with hospitals in poor condition and from which a good number of doctors have emigrated at the mercy of 40 years of repeated conflicts .
After this tragedy, the hashtag “Resignation of the Minister of Health” was the top keyword on Twitter in Iraq.
Prime Minister Moustafa al-Kazimi, who has declared three days of national mourning, announced the opening of an investigation and called for conclusions “within 24 hours”.
He suspended from their functions the head of Health of the eastern sector of Baghdad, the director of the hospital and the heads of security and technical maintenance. They are being questioned and will not be released “before judging those who were at fault,” he said.
In the early hours of Sunday, when dozens of relatives were at the bedside of “30 patients in the intensive care unit” of the Ibn al-Khatib hospital, reserved for the most serious cases, flames reached the floors, according to a medical source.
“The hospital did not have a fire protection system and the false ceilings allowed the fire to spread to highly flammable products,” said Civil Defense. “Most of the victims died because they were displaced and deprived of ventilators. Others were suffocated by smoke.”
Help from residents
Medical and security sources told AFP that 23 people were dead and around 50 injured.
The Civil Defense claimed to have been able to “save 90 people out of 120 sick and relatives”, refusing immediately to communicate an exact balance sheet of the victims.
As firefighters scrambled to put out the blaze amid a throng of sick people and relatives trying to escape the building, many residents lent a hand.
Amir, 35, told AFP that he “narrowly saved his brothers who were in the hospital”. “These are the people who took the injured” out of the hospital.
It is a “crime” against “patients harassed by COVID-19 who put their lives in the hands of the Ministry of Health, and who instead of being cured perished in the flames”, denounced the Commission human rights government.
She called on Kazimi to fire Minister of Health Hassan al-Tamimi to “bring him to justice”.
Several hours after the fire, the Ministry of Health boasted of having “saved more than 200 patients”, promising “an accurate toll of the dead and injured later”. Sunday morning, his spokesperson was still absent subscribers.
Over a million cases
COVID-19 cases surpassed one million in Iraq on Wednesday, with more than 15,000 dead. The country, probably due to its population, one of the youngest in the world, has a relatively low death toll from COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health says it conducts around 40,000 tests every day, a very low rate in a country with several cities of more than two million inhabitants, where density and promiscuity are high.
To avoid dilapidated hospitals, patients generally prefer to install an oxygen cylinder in their homes.
At the beginning of March, a timid vaccination campaign was launched in the country where the population, who has shunned masks since the start of the epidemic, remains very skeptical.
Out of nearly 650,000 doses of different vaccines – almost all received in the form of a donation or via the international Covax program – around 300,000 have already been administered, according to the Ministry of Health.