By Louisa Loveluck,
Alaa Al-Marjani Reuters
At least 82 people were killed in the fire which ripped through a Baghdad coronavirus ward, Iraq’s Interior Ministry said Sunday, sparking anger over the state of the country’s buckling health system.
Another 110 people were wounded in the blaze at Baghdad’s Ibn al-Khatib hospital, a ministry official told Iraqi state media. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has declared three national days of mourning.
Iraq’s coronavirus cases are spiking, and 28 victims of Saturday night’s fire were on life support when the smoke and flames reached their ward, according to the country’s human rights commission. Early reports suggested that the fire at the hospital began in an area used for storing oxygen canisters before engulfing a ward of patients who were barely able to breathe and unable to move.
As video footage of the blaze spread across social media, Iraq’s Health Ministry issued no statement and did not respond to phone requests for comment.
Iraq’s health system was on its knees before the coronavirus pandemic began, gutted by decades of corruption, mismanagement and underfunding. In interviews Saturday, doctors described remarkable pressures: Some said they were urged to return to work in their understaffed wards despite positive coronavirus diagnoses; several said that they had feared for the patients they treated in run-down wards where electricity cables visibly sparked from the ceiling.
The top United Nations official in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, expressed “shock and pain” Sunday at the scale of the tragedy. “The Special Representative calls for stronger protection measures to ensure that such a disaster cannot reoccur,” the statement read.