Hospital Fire Kills 82, Sparks Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq

People gather inside Ibn Khatib hospital after a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion in Baghdad Iraq on Sunday. — Reuters

People gather inside Ibn Khatib hospital after a fire caused by an oxygen tank explosion in Baghdad Iraq on Sunday. — Reuters

The commission called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhemi to sack Health Minister Hassan al Tamimi and "bring him to justice".

The evacuation was slow, painful and chaotic, with patients and their relatives crammed into stairwells as they scrambled for exits.

Salih, the president, said the fire was a result of "the accumulated destruction of state institutions due to corruption and mismanagement".

At least 28 patients who died were on ventilators in Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit wards, according to Ali al-Bayati, a spokesperson of Iraq's independent Human Rights Commission.

Around 300,000 people had received at least one dose as of Sunday, the ministry said.

The Iraqi Human Rights Commission denounced a "crime against patients exhausted by Covid-19 who put their lives in the hands of the health ministry and its institutions".

Witnesses and doctors told AFP many bodies had yet to be identified, the remains too charred by the intense flames.

"Managers walk around smoking in the hospital where oxygen cylinders are stored", he said.

"The whole system is broken", the doctor who spoke on the condition of anonymity said. "Even in intensive care, there are always two or three friends or relatives at a patient's bedside".

To restrict non-essential travel between 3 provincial health zones
Accommodations are also being encouraged to cancel bookings from people who are arriving from outside the health area. The order applies to everyone in the province, including non-essential travelers from outside the province.

Kadhimi announced an investigation and suspended the director general of eastern Baghdad's health department, which is responsible for Ibn al-Khatib hospital, as well as the facility's head and director of engineering and maintenance.

"When equipment breaks down, our director tells us not to report it", said a nurse, in another hospital in Baghdad.

Their equipment is outdated, staff are poorly trained and buildings crumbling. In 2019, Iraq allocated just 2.5 percent of its $106.5 billion budget to its Health Ministry.

The fire is believed to have been caused when at least one oxygen cylinder exploded inside the hospital, local media reported.

Moreover, with corruption rife and the drug market unregulated, speculation has driven prices through the roof.

Health authorities have faced an uphill battle to convince Iraqis to get vaccinated, in the face of widespread skepticism over the jab and public reluctance to wear masks since the start of the pandemic.

Many Iraqis have long opted to go overseas for operations and treatment, mainly to neighboring Iran and Syria, where currency devaluations in recent years have upped their purchasing power.

A fire that ravaged a Covid-19 hospital in Iraq's capital killed 82 people pre-dawn Sunday, sparking angry calls for officials to be sacked in a country with long-dilapidated health infrastructure.

A man who had been visiting his brother described people jumping out of windows to escape.

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