Nine babies’ deaths: hospital admits fault
We violated patients’ rights – Rahima Moosa
A Johannesburg hospital has conceded that it violated patients’ rights to quality healthcare after nine babies died there earlier this year.
Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital management met Human Rights Commission officials yesterday.
The commission’s regional manager, Buang Jones‚ speaking at the hospital after an inspection of the neonatal wards‚ said the facility had admitted fault during a presentation behind closed doors earlier in the day.
“From the information that we have gleaned thus far‚ the hospital has violated the right of access to health. There are a number of other interrelated rights they have violated‚ but they have violated the right to access healthcare and section 28 of the constitution‚ which says that the best interests of children are of paramount importance‚” said Jones.
The nine children who died were reported to have had necrotising enterocolitis – a condition which occurs mostly in premature newborns and affects their intestines.
Jones said that, according to the hospital’s authorities, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases had yet to establish the origin of the outbreak. “The report is that they cannot find the actual cause of the deaths of the babies‚” Jones said.
While the deaths were initially reported to have happened between April and July‚ hospital management maintained that the deaths had occurred over one year.
No other fatalities had been reported since then‚ although one of the babies remained hospitalised.
Jones said hospital management had complained of challenges at the facility‚ including staff shortages‚ a lack of equipment‚ space and beds.
Management also complained of a high absenteeism rate as staff were de-motivated and overworked due to the ratio of patients per nurse.
Rahima Moosa, in Coronationville, was built decades ago to serve people nearby but has seen an influx of patients from all over Johannesburg.
It does not have an intensive care unit for patients‚ a laboratory service or 24-hour blood bank on site.
Approximately 13 000 babies are delivered at the hospital a year‚ translating into nearly 1 100 babies a month.
Jones said since the outbreak‚ the hospital had reinforced its hygiene management process and informed staff to take extra precautions.
Meanwhile, an outbreak of klebsiella (a bacterium which causes respiratory, urinary and wound infections) killed six infants at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus on the East Rand recently.
Health sector trade union Hospersa spokesperson Kevin Halama said staff shortages were a major problem.
“When we are talking about the quality of healthcare that is being delivered, there are those instances where lives are lost unnecessarily because of pressure that is on the systems.
“Equipment is also not being serviced at a number of facilities. Some of the hospitals are overcrowded‚ mainly because there is poor planning from government’s side‚” he said.
Halama said the birth of any child was supposed to be a happy moment for a family.
He echoed Jones’s words when he said vacant posts were not being filled. “From the government side I don’t know where is the brains behind the planning of maternity wards and making sure that these wards are well-equipped.”
Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo also said there was a shortage of nurses. “It is not rare in our days to find a nurse that is working there alone looking after 27 babies.
“It is sad that only when babies die then the country must be alarmed. The issue of shortages of nurses in particular is a ticking time bomb in the country. More lives will be lost unnecessarily.”
The Gauteng department of health had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.
Rahima Moosa authorities say the National Institute of Communicable Diseases is yet to establish the origin of necrotising enterocolitis, which led to the deaths of nine newborns.