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At least 82 killed in huge fire at Baghdad hospital for Covid-19 patients

   April 27, 2021 2:42 AM
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by Khalid Razak and Yuliya Talmazan

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A catastrophic fire in a hospital in Iraq has killed dozens of patients who were being treated there. There were 'so many bodies all over the place,' said Dr. Sabah al-Kuzaie.
 
BAGHDAD, Iraq - At least 82 people were killed as a fire swept through a hospital in Baghdad where Covid-19 patients were being treated, officials in Iraq said Sunday.

Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for Iraq's semi-official Human Rights Commission, said a further 110 people had been injured in the blaze at Ibn al-Khatib hospital.

He had tweeted earlier that at least 28 of the patients who were killed were on ventilators as they battled severe Covid-19 symptoms.

Confirming the number of dead and injured in an interview with state media, Khalid al-Muhanna, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the fire was caused by an exploding oxygen tank, Reuters reported.

"We urgently need to review safety measures at all hospitals to prevent such a painful incident from happening in future," he said...


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"The death toll from the fire that broke out in Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital reached 82 victims," said the ministry's spokesman, Major General Khaled Al-Muhanna, in a statement obtained by ABC News.

The Ministry of Interior has ruled out "the existence of a criminal suspicion of the Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital fire accident."

The cause of the fire is currently under investigation.

An estimated 28 patients on ventilators who were seriously ill from COVID-19 symptoms were killed in the fire, tweeted Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman of the commission, according to the Associated Press.

Iraq's Independent High Commission for Human Rights initially reported on Sunday that 58 people had died in the fire but Iraqi authorities have not yet released an official casualty count, the Associated Press said.

More from https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com

Nurse Maher Ahmed was called to the scene late Saturday to help evacuate patients.

"I could not have imagined it would be a massive blaze like that," he said. The flames overwhelmed the hospital's second floor isolation hall within three to four minutes of the oxygen cylinder exploding, he said. "Volcanoes of fire."

Most of those killed suffered severe burns, he said. Others were overcome by smoke, unwilling to leave behind relatives hooked up to ventilators. Ahmed said the patients could not be moved. "They would have minutes to live without oxygen."

He said he and others watched helplessly as one patient struggled to breathe amid the smoke.

Widespread negligence on the part of health officials is to blame for the fire, Iraq's prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said Sunday. Following a special cabinet meeting to discuss the blaze, the government suspended key officials, including the health minister and the governor of Baghdad province. Other officials, including the hospital director, were dismissed from their posts.

It took firefighters and civil defense teams until early Sunday to put out the flames.

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

Paramedics carried the bodies, many burned beyond recognition, to al-Zafaraniya Hospital, where Ahmed said forensics teams will attempt to identify them by matching DNA samples to relatives.

By midday Sunday, relatives were still searching anxiously for loved ones.

"Please, two of my relatives are missing. … I am going to die ," posted a young woman on social media. "I hope someone can help us find Sadi Abdul Kareem and Samir Abdul Kareem, they were in the ICU."

Background

Background The COVID-19 pandemic put a large strain on Iraq. As of April 2021, more than a million cases had been recorded in the country, more than in any other Arab state. The public was skeptical about COVID-19 vaccines, and many were reluctant to wear masks during the pandemic. Ibn al-Khatib was one of three hospitals in Baghdad that were designated at the beginning of the pandemic by the Iraqi Ministry of Health to treat COVID-19 patients. The hospital served one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Baghdad, and a spokesperson for the health ministry stated that it was originally built in the 1950s and was renovated last year to treat coronavirus patients.

Patients in intensive care at the hospital were given respirators to assist breathing, and would have been difficult to transport in the event of a fire.

The European Commission released a report earlier in 2021 warning of the increased risk of hospital fires due to the use of supplemental oxygen in wards treating coronavirus patients.

Fire External image image icon A hallway of the hospital after the fire On the night of 24 April 2021, an accident occurred in the hospital's intensive care unit which caused an oxygen tank to explode. Medical sources told Agence France-Presse that the accident was caused by 'a fault in the storage of oxygen cylinders'. A doctor reported that the staff had tried to shut down the hospital's central oxygen system, but the oxygen tanks had already started exploding. The explosions set off a fire in the ICU that spread quickly to multiple floors during the night. At the time of the fire, it was believed that at least 120 patients were in the hospital, a doctor at the hospital disclosed. Major General Khadhim Bohan, head of Iraq's Civil Defence, stated that the hospital had neither smoke detectors, nor a sprinkler system, nor fire hoses, and that flammable material used in the dropped ceiling of the ICU contributed to the speed at which the fire spread.

The ICU, reserved for the most severe cases of the coronavirus, had about 30 patients, and dozens of their relatives were visiting at the time. One witness, who was visiting his brother in the hospital, stated that he saw people jumping out of windows and doctors landing on cars to escape the fire.

Iraq's Civil Defence stated that the fire was under control by the early morning hours of 25 April.

Casualties At least 82 people died as a result of the fire. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights reported that 28 of the fatalities were coronavirus patients being treated in wards at the ICU who had to be taken off their ventilators to escape the fire when it had reached their ward. Others had died of smoke inhalation. According to the pharmaceutical association of Iraq, at least one pharmacist was amongst the fatalities. At least 110 other people were injured. A reporter for Al Jazeera stated that the number of fatalities was likely to rise because many of those injured had suffered severe burns.

Aftermath With a health system already strained by poor infrastructure and the coronavirus pandemic, the fire, which was attributed to negligence often associated with widespread government corruption, sparked anger amongst the public and led to calls for accountability, including demands for the firing of Hassan al-Timini, the Minister of Health. The governor of Baghdad, Mohammed Jaber, called for the health ministry to establish a commission to bring those responsible to justice. Although several patients were relocated to other hospitals, many families decided to wait outside the hospital after the fire was extinguished, in an attempt to search for their loved ones.

On 25 April, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held an emergency meeting where he ascribed the fire to negligence, and ordered authorities to report the results of an investigation 'within 24 hours'. Al Jazeera reported that the announcement of the investigation did not stop the wrath of those on social media, as Iraqis repeatedly hear of the government declaring investigations but rarely see anyone actually being held accountable for their actions or lack thereof.

Al-Kadhimi also ordered the detention of the head of the hospital and the head of its department of engineering and maintenance, as well as the detention and questioning of the health director for the area of Baghdad where the hospital was located. He also suspended the Baghdad governor as well as Health Minister Hassan al-Timini and planned to question them as well. Kadhimi instructed that the investigation be concluded within a period of five days, as well as the submission of a report to the Council of Ministers, according to CNN.

On the same day, al-Kadhimi declared a three-day national mourning period. He also stated that the family members of each victim would receive 10,000,000 IQD .

Several countries worldwide issued condolences to the people of Iraq. Pope Francis also grieved for those killed in the Baghdad hospital fire, as he called out on the faithful to dedicate prayers to the victims.

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