Iraq's health minister resigns after deadly hospital blaze

Hassan Al Tamimi steps down following the deaths of 82 people in a hospital fire

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Iraqi Health Minister Hassan Al Tamimi resigned on Tuesday after a deadly hospital blast that killed dozens.

At least 82 people were killed and 110 injured in a huge fire in the pulmonary intensive care unit on the second floor of the Ibn Al Khatib Hospital in Baghdad's Jisr Diyala district last week.

“Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi approved the resignation request of Minister of Health and Environment Hassan Al Tamimi after an investigation report was formed following the incident at Ibn Al Khatib hospital,” a statement by Mr Al Kadhimi’s office said.

Reports suggested an accident had caused an oxygen tank to explode, sparking the blaze.

Hundreds of firefighters and residents rushed to the area, trying to put out the fire and rescue patients. Later, videos circulated on social media showing patients’ relatives crying hysterically and beating their heads and chests in grief.

Emergency service officials said many patients died when they were taken off oxygen machines to be evacuated, while others were suffocated by smoke.

The prime minister described the incident as a “setback” and blamed negligence.

Iraqi Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi speaks to journalists as he tours Baghdad's suburb of Sadr City on May 21, 2020, during a COVID-19 testing campaign as part of measures taken by the authorities aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus. - Certain neighbourhoods in the Iraqi capital Baghdad began a full lockdown for two weeks as of yesterday, in reaction to a spike in coronavirus infections since restrictions were relaxed. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Shortly after the fire, Mr Al Kadhimi dismissed the director of the hospital and other senior officials from the hospital.

Mr Al Tamimi and the Governor of Baghdad, Mohammed Ata, were immediately suspended.

After the incident, the government ordered hospitals across the country to review and implement better health and safety procedures.

An investigation was carried out on the causes of the fire and a report submitted to the Council of Ministers.

The government lifted Mr Al Tamimi’s suspension on Tuesday but he resigned shortly after.

Ibn Al Khatib Hospital was converted to treat Covid-19 patients as the country has recorded a surge in infected cases.

Since the outbreak of the virus in March 2020, Iraq has recorded 1,079,998 cases and 15,566 deaths.

Decades of economic sanctions, wars and rampant corruption has left Iraq's healthcare system in ruins.

The country was once known to have one of the best healthcare system in the region.

The Ibn Al Khatib Hospital blaze highlighted dire states of Iraq's health sector.

Much of Iraq’s health infrastructure was built during the 1970s and 1980s. Most medicines and medical supplies are only available on the black market and medical staff are dying from Covid-19 because of a lack of protection.