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Eleven babies die in Senegal hospital blaze

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o1209 DGT/AFP-TP23-----

r c Senegal-accident-health newseries 05-26 0617

Eleven babies die in Senegal hospital blaze

By Malick Rokhy BA

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ATTENTION - UPDATES with national mourning ///

TIVAOUANE, Senegal, May 26, 2022 (AFP) - Eleven newborn babies have

perished in a hospital fire blamed on an electrical short circuit in Senegal's

western city of Tivaouane, authorities said Thursday.

In the latest in a series of hospital deaths that have exposed the

weaknesses of the nation's healthcare system, President Macky Sall announced

the tragedy on Twitter before declaring three days of national mourning.

"I have just learned with pain and dismay about the deaths of 11 newborn

babies in the fire at the neonatal department of the public hospital," Sall

wrote after the fire late Wednesday.

"To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy," he

tweeted.

"Where is Mohamed?," asked one of the distraught mothers outside Mame Abdou

Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in Tivaouane, a city that has a population of 40,000.

Her baby son was taken to the hospital 10 days ago and was baptised on

Monday, Mohamed's 54-year-old father Alioune Diouf said.

The city's mayor Demba Diop said the fire had been caused by "a short

circuit and spread very quickly."

Local media quoted witnesses saying gas bottles exploded preventing any

rescue attempts.

Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr was quoted in media reports also

blaming an electrical fault.

- 'Beyond heartbroken' -

========================

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.

Mayor Demba Diop said "three babies were saved."

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that he

was "beyond heartbroken with this tragic news.

"I'm sending my deepest condolences to the parents and families of the

babies who lost their lives."

Health Minister Sarr, who had been in Geneva attending a meeting with the

WHO, said "an investigation is under way to see what happened."

The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other public health incidents

in Senegal, which suffers from a great disparity between urban and rural areas

in healthcare services.

In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a

hospital and four newborn babies were killed. The town's mayor cited an

electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit in the maternity ward.

- 'This is unacceptable' -

==========================

Wednesday's accident came over a month after the nation mourned the death

of a pregnant woman who waited in vain for a caesarean section.

The woman, Astou Sokhna, arrived at a hospital in the northern city of

Louga in pain. The staff refused to accommodate her request for a C-section,

saying it was not scheduled.

She died on April 1, 20 hours after arrival.

Sokhna's 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 Sokhna died were given a six-month

suspended prison sentence on May 11 by the High Court of Louga for "failure to

assist a person in danger" in connection with her case.

Amnesty International's Senegal director Seydi Gassama said his

organisation had called for an inspection and upgrade for neonatal services in

hospitals across Senegal after the "atrocious" death of the four babies in

Linguere.

With the new tragedy, Amnesty "urges the government to set up an

independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the

culprits, no matter the level they are at in the state apparatus," he tweeted.

Opposition lawmaker Mamadou Lamine Diallo also responded with outrage to

the Tivaouane blaze.

"More babies burned in a public hospital... this is unacceptable

@MackySall," he tweeted.

"We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is

enough."

mrb/dhc/spm/bp/jm

Senegal-accident-health

AFP 261521 GMT MAY 22

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