Infections in Iraq have reached record levels in a third wave boosted by the more aggressive delta variant, and long-neglected hospitals suffering from the effects of decades of war are inundated with critically ill patients, many this time young.
Doctors are going online to ask for donations of medicine and bottled oxygen, and loved ones are taking to social media to find hospital beds for loved ones.
“Every morning, the same chaos repeats itself, services overwhelmed with patients,” said Sarmed Ahmed, doctor at Al-Kindi hospital in Baghdad.
Widespread distrust of Iraq’s crumbling healthcare system only intensified after Monday’s fire at Al-Hussein University Hospital in the southern city of Nasiriyah, the second catastrophic fire in the country. countries in a coronavirus ward in less than three months.
Days after the last fire, the death toll was in dispute, with the health ministry putting it at 60, local health officials saying 88 and the Iraqi state news agency reporting 92 dead.
Many blame corruption and mismanagement of the medical system for the disaster, and the Iraqi prime minister has ordered the arrest of key health officials.
Doctors said they feared working in the country’s poorly constructed isolation wards and denounced what they called lax security measures.
“After the two hells, when I’m on call, I go numb because every hospital in Iraq is at high risk of burning at any time. So what can I do? I cannot quit my job. I cannot avoid the call, ”said Hadeel al-Ashabl, a doctor from Baghdad who works in a new isolation ward similar to that of Nasiriyah. “Patients are also unwilling to be treated in these hospitals, but it is also beyond their reach.
Iraq recorded more than 9,600 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest 24-hour total since the start of the pandemic. The number of daily cases has been increasing slowly since May. More than 17,600 people have died from the virus, according to the health ministry.
In April, at least 82 people – most of them critically ill virus patients needing ventilators to breathe – died in a fire at Ibn al-Khateeb hospital in Baghdad that erupted when an oxygen tank exploded. The Iraqi Minister of Health has resigned following the disaster.
Flawed construction and inadequate safety practices, including handling oxygen cylinders, were blamed for the two hospital fires. The 70-bed ward at Al-Hussein Hospital was built three months ago using highly flammable interior wall panels, according to hospital workers and civil defense officials.
In a large emergency room in Baghdad this week, relatives of COVID-19 patients sat on the floor as there were no chairs available.
Hospital space being limited, Ahmed called the Baghdad health directorate to tell them where to send patients. “They say, ‘Send five patients to this hospital, five to this other,” and so on, ”he said.
Baghdad dentist Hadeel Almainy took to Facebook to find a place for his father with COVID-19, pleading: “He can’t breathe, his skin is turning blue. The hospital could not take us.
In the southern city of Karbala, doctors have asked on social media for donations of remdesivir, an antiviral drug used to treat patients with coronavirus.
Al-Shabl said drugs and ventilators were running low in his hospital and 60% of COVID-19 patients needed breathing apparatus there.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, children have arrived at the hospital with severe viral symptoms, said Alya Yass, a pediatrician at Al-Numan University Hospital in Baghdad.
Doctors blame widespread reluctance to immunize for the current outbreak and fear the actual number of infections may be higher than the ministry’s figures. Many Iraqis are giving up testing because they don’t trust public hospitals.
Less than 3% of the Iraqi population has been vaccinated, according to a health ministry official who was not authorized to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity. The ministry openly blamed the public for flouting restrictions related to the pandemic.
Health workers said they expressed their concerns to their superiors with little result.
Mohammed Jamal, a former doctor at Al-Sader University Hospital in Basra, said he confronted a ministry inspection committee and asked: Why weren’t the drugs replenished or the fire extinguishers replaced? Where’s the fire system?
“They didn’t listen. They didn’t see, ”he said.
Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.