Dept probes infant deaths

2010-05-26 18:08

Johannesburg - The health department is investigating a spate of infant deaths at state hospitals, with 181 fatalities recorded in one facility since January, officials said on Wednesday.

Health ministry spokesperson Fidel Hadebe said: "A team of experts is to be set up to investigate the situation and come back with recommendations on how such incidents could be averted in the future."

The Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in the rural town of Mthatha has recorded the highest number of deaths.

Hadebe said: "The director general of the ministry has visited the hospital and is going back again on Thursday. We will leave no stone unturned."

Local health authorities have linked most of the 181 infant deaths to HIV, where mothers did not have access to anti-Aids drugs during pregnancy.

Provincial health chief Phumulo Masualle said the mortality rate was "unacceptably high" but that most of the Mthatha deaths were among premature babies.

The country generally has a high infant mortality rate, with 44 babies dying out of every 1 000 born. That is among the lowest rates in Africa, but very high compared to developed countries. In Sweden the rate is 3.2 per 1 000.

Masualle said many HIV-positive mothers went to antenatal clinics when it was too late to receive an effective course of drugs that prevent transmission to newborns.

Health officials in Johannesburg last week revealed that dozens of newborns had died of diarrhoea at city hospitals.

Those deaths had been blamed on poor hygiene by the nursing staff.