Senegal on Sunday buried 11 babies who died in a hospital blaze, the local mayor said, after the tragedy sparked fresh anger over the state of the health system.
The blaze late Wednesday in the western city of Tivaouane was just the latest in a series of hospital deaths that have exposed the weaknesses of Senegal’s health care system.
President Macky Sall on Thursday fired his health minister. But for many Senegalese, that is not enough, and they fear more tragedies in the future.
Last month, a heavily pregnant woman died in agony after her appeals for a caesarean at a public hospital in the northwestern town of Louga were denied.
The 11 babies who died in Wednesday’s fire in a neonatal ward were buried after a single ceremony at the Tivaouane cemetery, in accordance with the grieving families’ wishes.
The burial took place “behind closed doors,” Tivaouane mayor Demba Diop Sy told AFP. “We sympathize with the pain of the families,” he added. “Today is Mother’s Day (in Senegal) and there are 11 mothers who have lost their children.”
An electrical short-circuit has been cited as a possible cause of the blaze at the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh hospital.
Serigne Cheikh Tidiane Sy Al Amine, a local religious figure, said the hospital had been plagued for 15 years by “donations of obsolete equipment and broken promises to build a new hospital.”
Private health services are expensive in Senegal, and many residents of Tivaouane and its surrounding areas must choose between the hospital or traditional medicine.
The mayor said the neonatal unit, which only opened late last year co-financed by a private company, was equipped with safety equipment and that staff had undergone fire alarm training.
The president has ordered an audit of Senegal’s neonatal services and acknowledged the “obsolescence” of the national health system.
Senegal, widely seen a stable democracy in a turbulent region, is considered to have superior health care to many other African countries.
But there is a significant gap in the quality of service between large towns, smaller settlements and rural areas.
The latest tragedy was the third time in just over a year that people have died in maternity units of public hospitals, leading to accusations of inaction by authorities.
In April 2021, four newborns died in a hospital fire in the northern town of Linguere.