Infection fears as eight babies die at Vosloorus hospital

Thelle Mogoerane Regional Hospital in Vooslorus
Thelle Mogoerane Regional Hospital in Vooslorus
Image: Mduduzi Ndzingi

Eight babies have died in one month at a Gauteng hospital ward in what nurses fear could be another deadly outbreak.

The babies died at a neonatal ward at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus in Ekurhuleni last month.

The neonatal ward was forced to shut down five months ago after another six babies died from a Klebsiella outbreak.

Klebsiella is an infection which spreads through contact and can result in symptoms such as breathing difficulties and fever.

However, the Gauteng health department has dismissed claims of an outbreak this time, saying only one baby out of the eight tested positive for the infection.

The department said seven other babies died of health complications not related to klebsiella.

The provincial department of health had previously said the ward would remain closed until the infection was cleared.

Hospital staff members told Sowetan more infants died last month in what they suspect to be the same infection.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) said it notified the Ekurhuleni health district about the issue after receiving complaints from health workers at the facility.

A nurse, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, said the ward had been opened despite the lack of hygiene following the previous outbreak.

“They did not do a thorough cleaning of the ward. That ward is infected again.”

The nurse said they were surprised when management informed them during a meeting that the ward would be reopened last month in order to accommodate referrals from Tambo Memorial Hospital.

Another nurse said babies who were showing symptoms such as fever were given general antibiotics while blood tests were being conducted.

“By the time the blood tests come back it is already too late. Some of these babies don’t last 24 hours,” he said.

The nurse said staff were working under pressure and wanted the problem resolved.

“This is worrying. We want the department to shut down the neonatal ward at the hospital until we are sure that the infection is gone,” he said.

A third staff member said the infections were confirmed after lab tests. She said overcrowding and staff shortages continued to be a problem which contributed to such outbreaks.

The hospital’s acting CEO Dr Michael Malaka yesterday dismissed the claims.

“There is currently no outbreak. Eight babies died in January. One baby weighed 900grams and died from extremely low birth weight even though the baby tested positive for klebsiella. The other seven babies died due to medical conditions not related to klebsiella,” Malaka said.

He said proper measures including moving neonates to a new ward and disinfecting the old ward were taken following the previous outbreak.

Malaka also denied that the old ward was reopened, saying renovations would begin during the next financial year.

“Only one cubicle was used in February to admit some babies who were being tested for klebsiella because they could not be mixed with other babies who were negative to klebsiella,” he said.

Yesterday, Denosa provincial chairperson Simphiwe Gada called for an urgent investigation into the matter.

Gada said he visited the hospital last week after receiving information from staff and realised that infection control practices were not enforced. He said basic precautions such as hand washing before entering the ward were not followed by members of the public and some non-clinical staff such as people who deliver meals.

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