September 27, 2021

Iraq: fire in Covid unit of hospital kills dozens

At least 52 patients were killed and 22 others were injured on Monday, July 12, in a fire that ravaged the Covid unit at a hospital in Nassiriya, southern Iraq.

The spokesperson for the local health authorities, Haydar al-Zamili, told AFP of this provisional report and specified that the Covid-19 unit of the al-Hussein hospital ravaged by the flames had 70 beds. ‘The victims are burned to death and the search continues’ to find survivors, said Haydar al-Zamili.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazimi urgently convened overnight ministers and security officials to ‘examine the causes and consequences of the fire,’ his cabinet said, adding on Twitter that the director of the hospital and the head of civil defense of Dhi Qar province, on which the city of Nassiriya depends, were questioned by the police. In addition, a state of emergency has been declared in Dhi Qar province.

Explosion of oxygen cylinders

According to a source from the provincial health department, the fire was caused by the explosion of oxygen cylinders. The Iraqi Interior Ministry said on Facebook that the fire started from temporary structures erected near the establishment, but did not specify the origin of the incident.

In Nassiriya, hundreds of people gathered at the scene to help firefighters and rescuers. According to a medical source, 20 patients were evacuated from the burning establishment.

‘Politics are burning us ! ‘

The tragedy immediately provoked angry reactions in Nassiriya, where hundreds of people gathered in front of the hospital shouting: ‘The political parties are burning us!’

‘The Al-Hussein hospital disaster is clear proof of (the failure) to protect the lives of Iraqis and it is time to end this catastrophic failure,’ tweeted Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed al- Halboussi, indicating that the deputies would take up the matter on Tuesday.

‘This is yet another humanitarian disaster in Iraq. The Prime Minister should resign immediately, ‘tweeted an Iraqi doctor, Dr. Abdullah al-Bayati.

Similar tragedy in April

In April, a similar tragedy killed more than 80 people in the fire at a hospital dedicated to Covid-19 in Baghdad. This tragedy, caused by a series of negligence, had aroused the anger of the Iraqis and led to the resignation of the Minister of Health. Oxygen cylinders stored without respecting safety conditions had exploded and flames had devoured non-fireproof false ceilings for hours.

Most Iraqi hospitals are dormant and the health system has been dilapidated for years, plagued by economic hardship and corruption. On Monday, a fire broke out at the Ministry of Health in Baghdad and was quickly brought under control, with no casualties.