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    Fire at Senegal hospital killed 11 newborn babies, says president

    Eleven newborn babies died in a hospital fire in the western Senegalese city of Tivaouane, the president of the country said late on Wednesday.

    Just before midnight in Senegal, Macky Sall announced on Twitter that 11 infants had died in the blaze.

    “I have just learned with pain and dismay about the deaths of 11 newborn babies in the fire at the neonatal department of the public hospital,” he tweeted. “To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy.”

    The tragedy occurred at Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh hospital in the transport hub of Tivaouane, and was caused by “a short circuit”, according to the Senegalese politician Diop Sy.

    “The fire spread very quickly,” he said.

    The city’s mayor, Demba Diop, said three babies were saved.

    According to local media, the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh hospital was newly inaugurated.

    The health minister, Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, who was in Geneva attending a meeting with the World Health Organization, said he would return to Senegal immediately.

    “This situation is very unfortunate and extremely painful,” he said on radio. “An investigation is under way to see what happened.”

    The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal, where there is great disparity between urban and rural areas in healthcare services.

    In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed. The mayor of that town had cited an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit in the maternity ward.

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    Wednesday’s fire also comes just weeks after three midwives were convicted over the death of a pregnant woman who waited in vain for a caesarean section.

    The woman, named Astou Sokhna, had arrived at a hospital in the northern city of Louga in pain. The staff had refused to accommodate her request for a C-section, saying that it was not scheduled. She died on 1 April, 20 hours after she arrived.

    Sokhna’s death caused a wave of outrage across the country on the dire state of Senegal’s public health system, and health minister Sarr acknowledged two weeks later that the death could have been avoided.

    Three midwives – on duty the night Sokhna died – were sentenced on 11 May by the high court of Louga to six months of suspended imprisonment for “failure to assist a person in danger” in connection to her case.

    Amnesty International’s Senegal director, Seydi Gassama, said his organisation had called for an inspection and upgrade for neonatology services in hospitals across Senegal after the “atrocious” death of the four babies in Linguere.

    After Wednesday’s tragedy, Amnesty “urges the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the culprits, no matter the level they are at in the state apparatus”, he tweeted.

    The opposition lawmaker Mamadou Lamine Diallo also responded with outrage to the Tivaouane fire that killed the babies.

    “More babies burned in a public hospital … this is unacceptable @MackySall,” he said. “We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is enough.”

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