Dozens of people died in a fire at Al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriyah, Iraq. There are various reports disputing the death toll, from the Health Ministry saying 60 to Iraq’s state news industry reporting 92 deaths. This is the second deadly fire to occur in one of Iraq’s coronavirus wards in three months. The police announced that sparks from a faulty wiring system caused an oxygen tank to explode, leading to the fire. Additionally, reports on the hospital’s condition highlighted the lack of basic safety infrastructures, like fire sprinkler systems and fire alarms.
An anonymous medic told Reuters, “[W]e complained many times… that a tragedy could happen any moment from a cigarette stub, but every time we get the same answer from health officials: ‘We don’t have enough money’.” According to Johns Hopkins University, Iraq has experienced over 17,000 deaths and 1.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases. It is experiencing a third wave due to the delta variant. The country’s hospitals, which were already neglected from decades of war and widespread corruption, have been severely overwhelmed and strained by the pandemic.
Iraq’s new isolation wards are missing crucial safety measures, causing doctors and patients alike to fear the hospitals. “[…When I’m on call I numb myself because every hospital in Iraq is at high risk of burning down every single moment,” said Hadeel al-Ashabl, a Baghdad doctor working in an isolation ward like the one in Nasiriyah. Although patients refuse treatment inside hospitals, “it’s also out of their hands.” Local media reported that 13 arrest warrants were issued, including one for the province’s health chief Saddam Sahib al-Taweel by the Integrity Investigation Court. As the government is trying to investigate and find out who is responsible for the fire, angry relatives clashed with police, setting fire to two police vehicles, a Reuters witness said.
“[C]orrupt officials must be held accountable for the fire and killing innocent patients,” one young man told the BBC as he searched for his father’s body among charred bodies wrapped in blankets in the hospital’s courtyard. Many doctors are blaming the third wave on the fact that just 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated. In Iraq, vaccine hesitancy is driven by people’s distrust of the government and public health care system. Additionally, high levels of misinformation have spread because people are using “alternative” media, as well as apps like Instagram and Whatsapp.
International organizations need to aid Iraq’s government, to prevent future tragedies and stop the spread of false information. Iraq also needs assistance with providing accurate information about the vaccine. To ease the strain on hospitals, more people must get vaccinated. Furthermore, the wars and conflicts in Iraq caused major destruction to its health care system. The international community must provide the country with aid to rebuild its struggling system.
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