Eleven newborn babies have died in a fire at a hospital in Tivaouane, western Senegal, the country’s president said.
Macky Sall tweeted on Wednesday night: “I have just learned with pain and dismay of the death of 11 newborn babies in the fire in the neonatal department of the public hospital. To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest condolences.”
The incident occurred at the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh hospital and was caused by “a short circuit”, according to Senegalese politician Diop Sy. “The fire spread very quickly.”
The city’s mayor, Demba Diop, said three babies were saved. According to local media, the hospital was officially opened recently.
Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, who was in Geneva attending a meeting with the World Health Organization, said he would return to Senegal immediately.
“This situation is very unfortunate and extremely painful,” he said on the radio. “An investigation is underway to see what happened.”
The fire follows several incidents at public health facilities in Senegal, where there is a wide disparity between urban and rural areas in health services.
In Linguère, in April, a fire broke out in a hospital and four newborn babies died. The mayor of the northern city blamed an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit in the maternity ward.
Wednesday’s fire also comes weeks after three midwives were convicted in the death of a pregnant woman who was waiting in vain for a caesarean section.
The woman, named Astou Sokhna, had arrived in pain at a hospital in the northern city of Louga. Her staff had refused to honor her request for a C-section, saying she had not been scheduled. She died on April 1, 20 hours after her arrival.
Sokhna’s death sparked public outrage over the appalling state of Senegal’s health service, with the health minister acknowledging two weeks later that the death could have been prevented.
On May 11, the Louga High Court sentenced three midwives who were on duty the night Sokhna died to six months suspended prison terms for “failure to help a person in danger”.
Amnesty International’s director in Senegal, Seydi Gassama, said his organization had called for an inspection and improvement of neonatal services across the country following the “appalling” death of the four babies in Linguère.
Amnesty “urges the government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the guilty, regardless of their level in the state apparatus,” it tweeted.
Opposition lawmaker Mamadou Lamine Diallo also responded with outrage at the Tivaouane fire.
“More babies burned in a public hospital… this is unacceptable @MackySall. We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is enough,” she wrote.