Three days of national mourning declared after the fire, which allegedly started when an oxygen cylinder exploded.
At least 27 people have been killed and 46 injured after a fire broke out in a coronavirus intensive care unit in Baghdad on Sunday, as Iraq faces a growing wave of COVID-19 cases.
The fire at Ibn Khatib hospital in the Iraqi capital was triggered by an accident that caused an oxygen tank to explode, according to medical sources cited by the Reuters news agency and AFP.
The flames spread quickly, according to civil protection officials, because “the hospital did not have a fire protection system and the false ceilings allowed the flames to spread to highly flammable products.
Major General Kadhim Bohanm, head of the Iraqi Civil Defense Unit, said 90 out of a total of 120 patients and relatives had been rescued, the official INA news agency quoted.
The fire was extinguished, he added.
The Iraqi healthcare system, already ruined by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, has come under even greater strain due to the coronavirus crisis.
Simona Moltyn, from Al Jazeera, who is in Baghdad, said the death toll is likely to rise as many injured had severe burns.
The total number of people infected with COVID-19 in Iraq is 102,528, including 15,217 deaths, the health ministry said on Saturday.
There were 30 patients and dozens of loved ones in the intensive care unit – reserved for the most serious COVID cases in the capital – at the time the fire broke out.
No central oxygen supply
Iraqi hospitals usually do not have a central supply of oxygen, and patients who need it are usually given a bottle placed near their bed. Due to the understaffing, relatives sometimes have to change the cylinders, a doctor told Al Jazeera.
“The majority of the victims died because they had to be moved and were removed from the ventilators, while the rest were suffocated by smoke,” the civil defense said.
The health ministry, which only issued a statement several hours after the fire, said it had “saved more than 200 patients” and promised an official death and injury toll later.
The blaze sparked outrage on social media and the prime minister called for an investigation into the cause of the blaze.
“This is not enough for the Iraqis,” Foltyn said. “We often hear the government promising investigations, but rarely see the results or the government officials responsible for what appears to be negligence or mismanagement being exposed.
In a statement, the government human rights commission said the incident was “a crime against patients exhausted by COVID-19 who put their lives in the hands of the Ministry of Health and its institutions and instead of being treated, they perished in the flames ”.
The commission called on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi to fire Minister of Health Hassan al-Tamimi and “bring him to justice”. A hashtag demanding the dismissal of the Minister of Health was all the rage on Twitter.
Kadhemi responded by calling for “an immediate investigation with ministry officials” and demanded that “the hospital director, the head of security and the technical maintenance team be sent to investigators and not be released until that the guilty parties will not have been brought to justice “.
He also declared three days of national mourning.