Senegal’s President Macky Sall fired his health minister on Thursday as his country mourned the death of 11 newborn babies in a hospital fire blamed on an electrical short circuit. The tragedy follows several other public health incidents in the country, which suffers from a great disparity between urban and rural areas in healthcare services.
The blaze late last Wednesday at Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in the city of Tivaouane was the latest in a series of hospital deaths that have exposed the weaknesses of the nation’s healthcare system, reports AFP.
Mayor Demba Diop said the fire had been caused by a short circuit and spread very quickly, with the air-conditioner accelerating the flames. He insisted there was no negligence, denying allegations that the babies had been left alone, saying a midwife and nurse were present.
However, the tragedy sparked calls for the resignation of Health Minister Abdoudaye Diouf Sarr, who also blamed an electrical fault for the fire.
The maternity unit was equipped to take care of 13 babies. “At the time of the fire, there were 11, whom nurses were unable to save,” the minister said.
The fatal incident comes hard on the heels of another tragedy in the town of Linguere in April, when a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed.
That town’s mayor also cited an electrical malfunction in the maternity ward.
Wednesday’s accident came a month after the death of a pregnant woman, who had waited in vain for a Caesarean section. She had arrived at a hospital in the city of Louga in pain, where staff refused to accommodate her request for a C-section, saying it was not scheduled.
She died on 1 April, 20 hours after arrival. Her death caused a wave of outrage across the country over the dire state of the health system.
Sarr acknowledged two weeks later that the death could have been avoided.
Three midwives on duty the night the woman died were given a six-month suspended prison sentence by the High Court for “failure to assist a person in danger” in connection with her case.
Amnesty International has called for an inspection and upgrade of neonatal services across Senegal, and urged the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the culprits.
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