Flames engulfed a Baghdad hospital for COVID-19 patients late Saturday, killing at least 82 people. The run-down hospital, located in one of Baghdad’s poorest neighborhood, had no sprinklers or smoke detectors. Preliminary reports suggest the fire, which also injured 110 people, began with and exploding oxygen cylinder. Video showed a chaotic scene at the Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital as people rushed to try to evacuate as many patients as possible while flames overtook the building. Of the total, 28 of the patients killed had been on life support.
The government declared three days of national mourning, suspended key health officials, including the health minister, after the fire as it vowed to investigate. Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said negligence by health officials was to blame. But the fire was immediately seen as yet another example of how Iraq’s health care system is struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Iraq is now at the worst stage of the pandemic and lacks the resources to treat all the patients amid a financial crisis. A shortage of staff means Iraqi hospitals require a relative to help look after a patient, even in wards reserved for COVID-19 patients.
Doctors have long warned that aging health care infrastructure was a deadly risk. Staff at the hospital said the same fire could have taken place at any other government hospital. “They all have the same ceilings, the same faulty electric wires,” one doctor tells the Washington Post. “There’s no fire-escape plan, no fire extinguishers.” President Barham Salih said fire was a “result of the accumulated destruction of state institutions due to corruption and mismanagement,” in a post on Twitter.