Fire in Baghdad hospital Covid-19 ward kills over 80 people

Lula Sharp
April 25, 2021

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

The hospital's intensive care unit provides treatment for patients suffering with severe Covid-19 symptoms.

It has said it carries out around 40,000 tests daily from a population of 40 million. Others died of smoke inhalation.

Among the dead were at least 28 patients on ventilators, tweeted Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman of the country's independent Human Rights Commission, a semi-official body.

Patients not injured in the incident were also being transferred out of the hospital, the medical sources said.

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

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

The fire triggered outrage on social media, with a hashtag demanding the health minister be sacked trending on Twitter, a demand echoed by the human rights commission.

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In response to the fire, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi sacked the director-general of the Baghdad Health Department in the al-Rusafa area, where the hospital is located. "I have directed an immediate investigation and questioning of the head of the hospital, the head of security and maintenance, and all those concerned", Al-Kadhimi said in a statement.

In the meeting he said the incident amounted to negligence. The prime minister also gave authorities 24 hours to give the results of their probe.

United Nations envoy to Iraq Jeannine Hennis-Plasschaert expressed "shock and pain" over the incident in a statement and called for stronger protection measures in hospitals.

The health ministry has since recorded a total of 1,025,288 cases of the disease and 15,217 deaths.

Rather than go to overcrowded or run-down hospitals, patients who can afford it have often set up oxygen tanks at home.

As of Wednesday, 274,343 people had received at least one dose, the ministry said.

The country launched its vaccination campaign last month, and has received almost 650,000 doses of different vaccines, the majority by donation or through the Covax programme, which is helping lower and middle income nations to procure vaccines. The government is urging the public to get vaccinated, but demand has been low due to widespread mistrust of the health care system and the vaccines in particular.

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