26 June 2014

South Africa: Dobsonville Baby's Death Reveals Faults in System

The Gauteng Department of Health has promised to fix electrical wiring at Dobsonville's Itireleng Community Health Centre by the end of this week following a public outcry over a baby's death, but the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA) says there are larger issues.

The baby girl's 30 May death sparked a public war of words between the Gauteng Department of Health and DENOSA, which had released a statement prior to the child's death warning that on-going power cuts dating back to 2011 were endangering Itireleng Community Health Centre patients.

Although nurses say the faulty incubators are to blame for the baby's death have been fixed, DENOSA says it will take much more than working machines to restore quality health services at the centre.

Born underweight and premature, the baby died soon after birth despite being given oxygen and placed in an incubator, according to clinic nurses, who said a faulty incubator was to blame.

"We put her in the incubator and oxygen was given as well, but while she was in the incubator, her conditioned changed," says one of the nurses working in the maternity ward at the time the baby was born, who asked not to be identified in case she is victimised.

According to the nurse, the baby soon began to turn blue from lack of oxygen.

"We called a doctor immediately, and while a doctor was busy with her, we also called an ambulance," she said. "The baby died during that time and we found that the machine (incubator) was not working."

The Gauteng Department of Health denies that equipment was at fault.

"The baby was at no stage put in an incubator as alleged in media reports," said Gauteng Department of Health Head of Communications Prince Hamnca.

Hamnca added that repairs to safeguard the clinic's power supply should be completed by the end of this week.

"(The) Departments of health and infrastructure development are working together to improve electricity supply to the clinic," he told Health-e News. "Currently, contractors are on site upgrading the transformer and associated systems."

"This process is expected to be completed this week and thereafter the clinic electricity challenges will be minimised," Hamnca added.

Department lacks crisis intervention plan But patients say the baby's death has rattled their confidence in the clinic.

"I feel very scared about this," said Thembelihle Shinga, who is three months pregnant and due to give birth at the clinic. "Only if it is true that the machines are fixed I will have hope that my baby will be safe when I deliver."

Currently, the clinic's incubators are working and the clinic has received a neonatal resuscitation bed, which keeps babies are struggling to breathe warm as nurses provide emergency care, according to DENOSA Gauteng Provincial Organiser Matshidiso Dipudi.

But Dipudi says the baby's death has exposed the health department's lack of emergency response planning.

"The department does not have a crisis invention plan," said Dipudi, who alleged that nearby Zola Clinic also struggles with power cuts and understaffing. "In the future, we want to know where we stand so we are not sucking our thumbs."

Additional reporting by Laura Lopez Gonzalez

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