'Unhygienic conditions killing babies in hospital'

Tembisa Hospital where 10 babies died in two months. /Thulani Mbele
Tembisa Hospital where 10 babies died in two months. /Thulani Mbele

A mother whose newborn was among 10 babies killed by rare bacteria at Tembisa Hospital has blamed poor conditions at the neonatal ward for the outbreak.

Lucia Zulu's son Lwazi, was one of the infants infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria known as carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) during an outbreak at the Ekurhuleni hospital.

The 10 babies died between November 1 and December 31st.

Lwazi died, on December 28, five days after he was born, leaving his mother with more questions than answers about his short life.

A devastated Zulu said her son would still be alive if the conditions of the hospital were better and less populated.

"I think my son's death could have been prevented. It's easy for someone to fall sick when there are so many people in one ward. Some people are sick and it's not good for the babies," she said

She said doctors told her that Lwazi was sick, but she thought it was because he was born prematurely.

"Three days after he was born, the doctors told me that he had an infection. They didn't explain to me what the infection was, but I thought it was because his immune system was not strong as a premature baby," Zulu said.

Gauteng health spokesperson Philane Mhlungu said the bacteria outbreak was caused by overcrowding at the hospital. "Tembisa Hospital, like many other health facilities in the province, is faced with the challenge of ever increasing demand for services," said Mhlungu.

"The 44-bed neonatal unit often admits close to 90 patients. While the department is looking at improving the hospital infrastructure, it is doing its utmost to serve patients with respect and dignity."

He said measures to prevent further infections were taken.

"Additional Professional Nurses have been deployed to assist at the neonatal unit. Approval to divert new admissions to the Kalafong Hospital and Steve Biko Academic Hospital has been granted in principle. Furthermore, the external infection prevention and control audit to be conducted on the date to be provided by provincial quality assurance directorate."

The 31-year-old mother said she was asked to give consent for a blood transfusion to allow doctors to run tests on baby Lwazi as he no longer had enough blood in his system.

She said later Lwazi failed to breathe by himself and that the nurses constantly changed his pipes.

She said he was taken to an isolation room, but she said it resembled a store room not fit for a sick baby to be kept in.

"There were broken machines that were being kept in there and it was dirty. The baby's father complained about the conditions and they said they would make a plan."

Zulu described the maternity ward as overcrowded with pregnant women being forced to lie on the floor while waiting to be attended to.

In 2018, six newborn babies died at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus as a result of Klebsiella pneumoniae outbreak.

Buang Jones of the SA Human Rights Commission said they would visit Tembisa Hospital on Monday for inspection.

DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom criticised the department for failing to keep patients safe.

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