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Iraq: UN representative calls for ‘stronger protection measures’ after fatal fire in COVID hospital

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert offered her deepest condolences to the families of the scores of people who lost their lives during a blaze that erupted at the Ibn Khatib hospital on Saturday night and wished the 100-plus injured a full and speedy recovery.

According to reports, the accident was caused by the explosion of an oxygen tank.

Tragedy in the making 

Iraq’s Civil Defence said that by the early hours of Sunday morning the fire was under control. 

Media reports said that the government’s human rights commission issued a statement calling the incident “a crime against patients exhausted by Covid-19”. 

And emergency service officials said that many patients died when they were taken off oxygen machines to be evacuated, while others were suffocated by smoke, according to news sources. 

Prevention saves lives 

Future disasters must be stemmed before they start, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert  said, calling for “stronger protection measures to ensure that such a disaster cannot reoccur”. 

Meanwhile, the UN continues to provide critical support to Iraq’s health sector amid the pandemic and surging infections and stands ready to further assist the health authorities in combating the disease.  

On Sunday morning, Twitter was awash with concern over the tragic accident, including the UN Children’s Fund, which tweeted: “UNICEF extends its deepest condolences and sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives and those injured due to the fire that occurred at Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad”.  

COVID plagues the country 

Iraq’s hospitals have been pushed to the limit during the coronavirus pandemic, with World Health Organization (WHO) data revealing that since January 2020, it has received reports of 1,025,288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 15,217 deaths. It also shows a sharp increase since February of this year. 

Last month the country launched its vaccination campaign, having received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, the UN-backed vaccine initiative, co-led by WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the vaccine alliance. 

“Intense transmission is ongoing and is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and health workers”, UNICEF said. 

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