When the family members of Covid-19 patients at Al-Hussein University Hospital in Nassiriya, Iraq found out that the hospital had run out of oxygen, they immediately panicked. By the time a new shipment had arrived, four people had died and desperate relatives swarmed the truck carrying the life-saving canisters. Many people shared tragic videos of distressed family members on social media to highlight deadly shortages of material, medicine and staff in many of Iraq’s hospitals.

Witnesses took photos and videos documenting what happened after the Al-Hussein University Hospital in Nassiriya ran out of oxygen on June 24. The video below shows the moment when patients’ families learned the news and quickly descended into panic.

Rallying together under the hashtag مستشفيات_الناصريه_بلا_اوكسجين# (which translates to "Nassiriya hospitals without oxygen"), social media users accused the ministry of health of negligence and poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dhi Qar province, where Nassiriya is located (about 370 km southeast of Baghdad), is one of the epicentres of the pandemic.

"The lack of medical staff and the crumbling health infrastructure means the hospital is dependent on volunteers”

Haydar el-Hamad, who filmed the first video in this article, is a journalist and blogger from Nassiriya. He was at the hospital that day:

I’ve been covering the progression of the pandemic in our area. Around 2am on June 24, we found out that the oxygen had run out and that it would take at least two hours to get more from the capital, Baghdad. There is such a shortage of healthcare workers at the hospital that Covid-19 patients need a family member or close friend to stay with them and help assure their care. The lack of medical staff and the crumbling health infrastructure means the hospital is dependent on volunteers.

As soon as they heard that there was no more oxygen for their loved ones, people began to panic. At least four Covid-19 patients died.

Two hours after the hospital ran out of oxygen, a shipment of oxygen finally arrived from Baghdad. The video below shows family members of Covid-19 patients stampeding the truck carrying the cylinders in a desperate attempt to get oxygen for their sick loved ones.

‘’In a terrible scene at the Al-Hussein Hospital, the family members of Covid-19 patients fight for a cylinders of oxygen. If the Ministry of Health can’t manage these simple problems, he should leave along with his directors general,” reads the caption of this video posted on Facebook.

Hospital staff feel abandoned

In a press briefing held at Al-Hussein Hospital, a video of which was later posted online by Radio Merbad, hospital management begged the governor of Dhi Qar province and the ministry of health to provide emergency support, including additional staff and supplies.

"We can’t watch our loved ones die because of mercenaries and those who make a business out of poor people’s lives,” stormed the spokesperson for medical staff at the Al-Hussein Hospital during a press briefing.

In the wake of this terrible incident, the director of health for Dhi Qar province confirmed that the Iraqi Minister for Health Hassan Tamimi had sent 10 tons of oxygen to Al-Hussein Hospital. The ministry of industry provided an additional seven tons. He added that a reservoir of oxygen, with a capacity of 27 tons, was also installed in the same hospital.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted the Iraqi ministry of the interior to find out more about the situation at the hospital. We will update this page if they respond to our queries.

Close to 40,000 cases and more than 1,400 deaths in Iraq

More than 2,000 people in Dhi Qar province have been infected with Covid-19 since February. Of those cases, 123 people have died. Health and safety officials in the province have imposed a curfew since June 24 in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. June 25 was the worst day yet with 262 new cases and 11 deaths.

According to official figures released on June 25, the Iraqi ministry of health reported that Iraq has seen 39,139 cases of Covid-19. Of those cases, there have been 1,437 deaths. Happily, 18,051 people have reportedly been cured of the illness.

Article by Omar Tiss