Five babies die from faulty incubators
The five died because they were not put into incubators and could not keep warm, according to a hospital source who asked not to be named as she feared being victimised.
Four of the hospital’s six incubators are broken, while the remaining two are faulty and do not regulate heat properly.
Two babies died on Monday, two more on Tuesday and the fifth in the early hours of Wednesday morning, according to the source.
Menwhile, two other premature babies sustained burn wounds last week – either from the faulty incubators or from hot water bottles. One baby is still in the hospital while the other has been discharged but the mother has to bring the baby back regularly to get new wound dressings.
A hospital source, who refused to be named as she was afraid of being victimised, told Health-e that the two babies had been burnt by the faulty incubators which had become overheated. However, nurses told the babies’ mothers that their children had been burnt by hot water bottles.
“The incubators were off because the electricity was off, and we had to warm the blankets on a heater to keep the babies warm, and the babies sustained burns from the blanket,” claimed one nurse.
The sobbing 23-year-old mother of one of the babies said that the excitement of having her first child had been shattered when her child’s leg and arm had been badly burnt.
“I was shocked when I was told my baby had burns,” said the young mother, who asked not to be named. “The nurses say they were trying to keep the babies warm with hot water bottles. Now I always think something bad is going to happen to my baby. I am scared because my baby’s wounds are not healing.
“Babies die here almost on a daily basis and I think it is because of the cold,” said another mother. “Something has to be done here immediately to save our babies.”
Premature babies often can’t keep themselves warm without help, so an incubator is crucial for their survival. Incubators also protect premature babies from infection, noise and light, and also provide humidified air to maintain skin integrity in very premature babies.
Four incubators in the premature babies’ unit have been broken for weeks and the remaining two are faulty, according to a hospital source. This has been reported to the hospital authorities but nothing has been done to repair them.
Gauteng health spokesperson Dr Sello Mokoena said he was saddened by the babies’ deaths and sent condolences to the families. However, he said that the hospital’s CEO, Damaria Magano, had denied that the five babies had died as a result of “poor management” when he had contacted her.
“The deaths of the five babies is still being investigated by the province’s Quality Control Unit, but the CEO said that the deaths were not the result of a lack of management or infection, but the babies’ low birth weight,” said Dr Mokoena.
“The hospital CEO acknowledged that she had received a report that two babies had been burnt, but had been tols that their burns were minor. She could not explain why the babies were burnt and said the cause of the burns is still being investigated,” said Dr Mokoena.
Mokoena said that the CEO was also looking into the issue of the faulty incubators, and acknowledged that management was trying to address a number of resource challenges.
When Health-e visited the hospital, there were 20 premature babies in the ward and some were sharing cots because there weren’t enough for all of them. This is not good for infection control.
There has been no hot water in the ward since January 2009, according to nurses.
A nurse, who asked not to be named as she feared losing her job, said that the hospital was seriously under-resourced and this was affecting patient care.
“There is nothing to wipe your hands with after washing them,” said the nurse. “We don’t have patient record sheets and make our own by drawing lines on plain paper. Also the photocopy machine in this hospital hasn’t been working for the past three months.”
In May last year, six premature babies died of gastroenteritis at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg.
An official report into their deaths identified “overcrowding and lack of resources” as factors in the deaths.
“This tragedy has occurred against a background of a neonatal unit that has been under severe pressure for a long time,” said the report, compiled by a panel of eight health experts.
“From the audits and reports it is evident that the unit has been plagued by significant deficiencies like the lack of routine supplies such as roller towels or antiseptic sprays. Without towels, adequate handwashing cannot be practiced,” according to the report.
Since the Charlotte Maxeke deaths, the province has set up a neonatal advisory task team to advise the health department on issues of neonatal care in the Gauteng.