Iraqi hospitals 'time bombs' for patients, official says after Covid unit fire

Iraqi hospitals 'time bombs' for patients, official says after Covid unit fire
It is not just Covid isolation units that are dangerous, the official from the prime minister's office told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, but the state's entire health infrastructure.
2 min read
15 July, 2021
Sixty people died in a fire at the Al-Hussein hospital's Covid isolation unit on Sunday night [Getty]

Iraq's old, poorly-maintained hospitals are "time bombs" for patients, an official in the prime minister's office has told The New Arab's Arabic-language service, days after a deadly fire ripped through a Covid isolation unit.

According to official estimates, 60 people were killed in a blaze at the Al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriyah, southern Iraq on Sunday night. It was the second deadly fire at a unit for Covid-19 patients in less than three months.

Covid isolation units are made from prefabricated structures left behind by the Americans after their first withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 and shelters from the sites of oil and port companies in Basra, the high-ranking official from the office of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Some units are made of materials for temporary shelters brought by aid organisations for people displaced by war and genocide, the official said. 

It is not just Covid isolation units that are dangerous, the official said, but the state's entire health infrastructure.

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"All health facilities date back to the seventies and eighties, before that; they have reached their expiry date, and they are not maintained," the official said.

"Like the isolation center where the fire broke out, they are time bombs for patients, as there are no vents, no exits for escape, and no fire extinguishing systems."

Iraq's Council of Ministers has given an investigation committee a week before it must share its verdict, and the judiciary council issued arrest warrants for 13 provincial health officials in connection with the fire.

Populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demanded answers for the tragedy, and punishment for those responsible – though Saddam al-Taweel, the chief of health in Dhi Qar province who resigned from his post after Sunday's fire, is affiliated with Sadr's political movement.

Investigations have yet to find evidence of criminal intent behind the fires, the official said; instead, the fire was down to "corruption and a disregard for people's lives".

Senior Iraqi officials have vowed to crack down on state corruption to free up money for badly needed infrastructural projects. Though local and provincial officials have been charged with corruption, little else has changed.

Iraqis  having been taking to the streets in large-scale demonstrations since October 2019, demanding an end to corruption and mismanagement. 

Protests in Nasiriyah have found new vigour since the fire at Al-Hussein hospital.