Iraq’s health minister has resigned, 10 days after a fire in a Baghdad COVID hospital killed more than 80 people.
Hassan al-Tamimi, who joined the government with the backing of powerful Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, stepped down of his own accord, a government statement said on Tuesday.
The fire at the Ibn al-Khatib hospital, which killed 82 and injured 110, triggered outrage on social media, with a widespread hashtag demanding the health minister be sacked.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, a non-partisan independent who regularly extends a hand to the Sadrists – the largest parliamentary bloc – suspended Tamimi in the wake of the fire, along with many other officials. The government lifted the suspension on Tuesday and he then resigned.
The fire highlighted the neglect of a healthcare system that was once one of the best in the Middle East, but has been racked by conflict, international sanctions, the US-led invasion in 2003 and rampant corruption.
The blaze broke out in the pre-dawn hours of April 25, sparked by the explosion of badly stored oxygen cylinders. Many of the victims were on respirators being treated for COVID-19 and were burned or suffocated in the resulting inferno that spread rapidly through the hospital, where dozens of relatives were visiting patients in the intensive care unit.
The results of the probe into the incident blamed lower-level officials.
The director of the Ibn al-Khatib hospital, his administrative deputy, the head of the hospital’s civil defence and the head of the health department in eastern Baghdad “were dismissed and will be subject to several disciplinary measures”, the government statement said.
The government has ordered hospitals across the country to review and implement better health and safety procedures.
The incident further eroded Iraqis’ trust in their healthcare system. During the coronavirus pandemic, that lack of trust has meant some have not sought medical help when infected with COVID-19, and have decided not to be vaccinated at state-run medical centres.