Babies’ hospital deaths should not be seen as normal - doctor

2015-09-04 13:08

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Johannesburg - The deaths of five babies in a row at a KwaZulu-Natal hospital from a suspected bacterial infection should not be treated as "normal", a KwaZulu-Natal doctor and member of the provincial legislature said on Friday.

"It's not OK," Democratic Alliance health spokesperson Dr Imran Keeka said.

He said he wanted answers on the deaths of the babies at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital neonatal intensive care unit, south of Durban.

On Thursday, the province's health department said it had found the primary causes of death were congenital gastrointestinal malformations - gastroschisis (a hole in the abdominal wall), Pierre Robin Syndrome (causing breathing problems) and one had necrotising enterocolitis (damage to the intestinal tract).

The DA earlier claimed the babies had died due to acinetobacter and klebsiella organisms.

"During the past six months, there were 377 admissions of neonates to the unit. Out of these, there were 38 deaths - implying a 10% death rate per month, which is not unusual for this unit. Only 2% of the admissions die of sepsis as a contributing factor," the department said in a statement.

Too few nurses

However, Keeka said the department should deal with what was happening, "instead of trying to provide excuses".

He said while he understood the babies were already critically ill as surgical patients, "it's not the norm to die in quick succession from two particle organisms".

He explained that although each baby had dedicated equipment such as a stethoscope, the unit did not have the preferred standard of one nurse per infant, so nurses moved from one baby to another, increasing the possibility of passing on an infection.

Besides the five infants who died, another, who was one of quadruplets, was still on a ventilator.

The department said it had already taken action by closing the unit for 10 days and taking swabs.

Every case was investigated with intense surveillance and meetings were held with microbiologists, clinicians and surgical doctors.

Klebsiella outbreak

They also held a hand washing and infection control awareness campaign and in-service training was conducted with all clinical practitioners.

"Environmental swabbing was done on the ventilators and surfaces among others. Strict access control was reiterated. Terminal cleaning was done on alternate days," the department said.

It explained that when newborns referred from other hospitals were admitted, a routine septic screen was done and, in the event that the results returned positive, the babies were isolated.

In 2005, 22 babies died at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital neonatal unit from a klebsiella outbreak. A subsequent investigation revealed the outbreak was linked to a failure in infection control measures and insufficient hand washing by staff in the unit.

That contamination was caused by the multiple use of intravenous bottles to administer Vamin-Glucose.

Read more on:    durban  |  healthcare

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