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South Africa probes infant deaths

1st June 2010

South African health officials are investigating a sudden increase in the number of infant deaths at the country's state hospitals.

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One of the hospitals has recorded 181 infant deaths since the year began.

Health ministry spokesman Fidel Hadebe said that he had set up a team of experts to investigate.

He said that he hoped the experts could understand the situation well enough to recommend on how such incidents could be averted in the future.

So far, the highest number of infant deaths is in the town of Mthatha, in rural South Africa.

The hospital in question is known as the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital.

South Africa's public health system is overburdened, with public hospitals in South Africa tending to receive the uninsured poor, who comprise most of the country's patients.

The health system itself lacks adequate money and staff, meaning that proper healthcare is only available to people who have medical insurance.

Hadebe said that the South African ministry of health director general had visited the hospital and was going back again.

He said that the ministry would explore every avenue in investigating the deaths.

Local health authorities believe that most of the deaths are linked to HIV, since most mothers in rural South Africa give birth without anti-AIDS treatments.

Phummulo Masualle, the provincial health chief of Eastern Cape province, where Mthatha is located, said that many of the infant deaths were among premature babies.

Although the infant mortality rate in South Africa is one of the lowest in Africa itself, at 44 babies 1,000 newborns, it is much higher than developed countries.

Masualle said that HIV-positive mothers who received antenatal treatment too late risked transmitting the virus to their newborn babies.

South Africa has the most cases of HIV in the world, and 5.7% of the population carries the virus.

The country also has the world's biggest treatment programme.

Last week, Johannesburg health officials said that dozens of newborn children had died of diarrhoea in its city's hospitals, due to poor sanitation.

Aaron Motsoaledi, the South African health minister, said that public hospitals were filled past their capacity due to HIV and AIDS, and that South Africa needed to deal with its HIV/AIDS problem before it got even worse.

He said that people were still having 20,000 still-births in South Africa every year, 43% of which were tied to HIV/AIDS, which also reflected the number of pre-term babies in the country.

 

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