11 newborn babies killed in Senegal hospital fire

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Eleven babies died Wednesday in a fire in a hospital in Tivaouane, in western Senegal, a tragedy that highlights the serious deficiencies of the country's public health system.

"I have just learned with pain and dismay the death of 11 newborns in the fire in the neonatal department of the public hospital" of Tivaouane, tweeted Senegalese President Macky Sall.

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

"Three babies were saved," said the mayor of Tivaouane, Demba Diop. The fire was caused by "a short circuit and the fire spread very quickly," said Diop, who is also a member of parliament and better known as Diop Sy.

In early April, another tragedy in a public hospital had already shocked Senegal.

The press reported that Astou Sokhna, a woman in her thirties who was nine months pregnant, died on 1 April in the public hospital in Louga (north) after waiting in great pain for 20 hours for the Caesarean section she wanted.

The staff allegedly argued that her operation was not planned and threatened to chase her away if she insisted.

This death had caused a wave of indignation on social networks against the shortcomings of the public health system.

Faced with the outcry caused by the death of Ms. Sokhna, President Sall had instructed to look for those responsible.

The Minister of Health, Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, acknowledged on April 14 that the death of Ms. Sokhna could have been avoided. The director of the hospital was dismissed and replaced.

Three midwives who were on duty the night of the tragedy were sentenced on May 11 to six months' suspended imprisonment for "failure to assist a person in danger" by the High Court of Louga. Three other midwives, on duty during the day, were acquitted, according to a defense lawyer.

"Painful situation"

"This situation is very unfortunate and extremely painful. The investigation is underway to see what happened" at the hospital in Tivaouane, Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr said Wednesday on RFM radio.

Mr. Sarr, who was in Geneva attending a meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that he would return to Senegal on Thursday.

A team from the Ministry of Health, led by the director of public health institutions Ousmane Dia, was on its way to Tivaouane, the ministry said.

The Minister of the Interior Antoine Félix Abdoulaye Diome was also expected in Tivaouane on Wednesday night, according to the local press.

The head of the Senegalese section of Amnesty, Seydi Gassama, "urges the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibilities and punish the culprits," on Twitter.

The tragedy occurred in Tivaouane, a religious city and stronghold of Senegal's influential Tidianes Muslim brotherhood.

"More babies burned in a public hospital. This is unacceptable Macky Sall," tweeted an opposition MP, Mamadou Lamine Diallo.

Four newborn babies had already died on April 25, 2021 in a fire in Linguère, in the north of the country. The mayor and then Minister of the Interior, Aly Ngouille Ndiaye, cited an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit in the maternity ward, where six babies were born.

Another case in a public hospital recently caused a scandal. In Kaolack (center), an infant declared dead on May 8 by a nurse and then taken to the morgue was found alive by his father a few minutes later, before finally dying during the day, according to the local press.

The prosecutor requested a six-month sentence against the nurse during the trial, the local press reported Wednesday. The date of the verdict was not specified.

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