Eleven newborn babies died in a hospital blaze in the western Senegalese city of Tivaouane late on Wednesday, President Macky Sall said.
“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 on Twitter just before midnight (0000 GMT).
“To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy,” he tweeted.
The tragedy occurred at Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in the transport hub of Tivaouane, and was caused by “a short circuit”, health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr was quoted in media reports as saying.
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.
But according to the city’s mayor, Demba Diop, “three babies were saved”.
“My son was christened yesterday. He was only nine days old. The maternity ward was full and I don’t think there are any survivors,” one unidentified mother told the news website, Dakaractu.
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.”
“It is with horror and great pain that I learned of the death of 11 newborn babies at Tivaouane hospital. Let us pray for these innocent people who have disappeared. My deepest condolences to the bereaved parents,” said former prime minister Abdoul Mbaye.
– Newly inaugurated –
According to local media, the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital was newly inaugurated.
Health minister Sarr, who had been in Geneva attending a meeting with the World Health Organization, said “an investigation is under way to see what happened”.
The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal, where there is 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.
The accident on Wednesday comes over a month after the nation mourned the death of a pregnant woman who waited in vain for a Caesarean section.
The woman, named Astou Sokhna, had arrived at a hospital in the northern city of Louga in pain. The staff had refused to accommodate her request for a C-section, saying that it was not scheduled.
She died April 1, 20 hours after arrival.
Sokhna’s death caused a wave of outrage across the country over the dire state of Senegal’s public health system, and health minister Sarr acknowledged two weeks later that the death could have been avoided.
Three midwives — on duty the night Sokhna died — were sentenced on May 11 by the High Court of Louga to six months of suspended imprisonment for “failure to assist a person in danger” in connection to her case.
Amnesty International’s Senegal director Seydi Gassama said his organisation had called for an inspection and upgrade for neonatology 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 said.
“We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is enough.”