Killer bug hits babies ward

Staff members at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus took to the streets on Tuesday demanding that the CEO steps down after six infants died since July.
Staff members at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus took to the streets on Tuesday demanding that the CEO steps down after six infants died since July.
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

At least six infants have died since July at an East Rand hospital as a result of a suspected antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a neonatal ward.

On Tuesday, staff members at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus protested and called for the CEO Nomonde Mqhayi-Mbambo to step down amid complaints that she failed to take steps after the outbreak of the deadly bacteria, among other issues.

The babies are believed to have died from carbapenem-resistant acinetobacter (CRA), which can result in conditions such as pneumonia and meningitis.

According to a memorandum handed over to the health department yesterday, the outbreak was caused by overcrowding as the 60-bed unit, has more than 90 babies.

Staffers alleged that Mqhayi-Mbambo failed to investigate the CRA outbreak and instead went on leave after the baby who tested positive for the bacteria died on July 9.

Public Servants Association (PSA) shop steward Lindiwe Ndlovu said three babies sleep in one bed in Ward 2 due to a high number of admissions.

"There is an infection in that ward. Last week alone, five babies died," Ndlovu said.

She said staff members had previously complained to management about numerous issues including food and staff shortages at the hospital but nothing was being done.

Ndlovu said unions like PSA, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa), the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union and others had drafted a joint memorandum because workers had had enough of the mess at the hospital.

A nurse who works in the ward said: "The ward has 60 licensed beds but we ended up having 96 babies because our catchment area is very large."

She said they had complained about overcrowding to management and how it increased chances of sepsis "but they don't care".

The hospital's communications officer Philani Mhlungu who had promised to arrange an interview with Mqhayi-Mbambo, later said she would not be commenting and referred all queries to the department of health.

Provincial health department spokesman Lesemang Matuka said they would investigate the issues. "Each and every allegation will be investigated. The aim is to make sure that our hospitals are run properly," Matuka said.

A cleaner who was also protesting yesterday said they were forced to handle patients' food after cleaning toilets, "which contributes towards the spread of infections".

She said they had been pleading with management to hire more workers who will be in charge of dispensing food.

"We don't want to touch toilets and then deliver food. It is dangerous to patients," the cleaner said.

Paediatrician Dr Vhutshilo Netshituni said CRA can be transmitted from human to human through contact and people usually contract it at a hospital.

Netshituni said overcrowding and poor hand hygiene can result in the infection spreading inside a ward.

She said the problem was that the bacteria is resistant to normal antibiotics while the medication which can treat the infection is usually not readily available in hospital pharmacies.

"The biggest problem is that by the time you figure out what is causing the pneumonia or sepsis, it is already too late. If you don't get that antibiotic you can actually die."

Netshituni said the best way to control the infection is to isolate the infected patient and make sure that the ward was cleaned thoroughly.

Meanwhile, Denosa shop steward Lebo Nkoana read out the memorandum containing more allegations, including that Mqhayi-Mbambo used hospital resources to benefit friends and relatives.

"The CEO has turned the hospital into her own house."

He said they wanted her and other management members to step down immediately.

X