Cheick Si / AP
TIVAOUANE, Senegal — Police were on duty and nearby residents and parents mourned outside a hospital in Senegal where a fire in the neonatal unit has killed 11 newborns. Only three babies could be saved, President Macky Sall said, before calling Thursday for three days of mourning for the lives of the youngsters lost.
Mamadou Mbaye, who witnessed the fire Wednesday at Abdoul Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in Tivaouane, a town 75 miles northeast of the capital Dakar, told The Associated Press that conditions inside the hospital were “appalling.”
“It was hot and smoky inside with sweltering heat, and there was a power outage,” Mbaye said.
The grieving parents were still in shock.
“I baptized my son on Wednesday and he was baptized here at the hospital. To my great surprise, I received a call to say that the neonatal section had been destroyed by fire,” said Badara Faye, who lost her son.
Moustapha Cissé, who also lost a newborn, said they are still waiting for answers on how such a tragic fire could have killed their children.
The fire was attributed to an electrical short circuit, according to Mayor Demba Diop.
Interior Minister Antoine Diome announced that the authorities would open an investigation into the state of the hospital facilities, as well as other medical care centers, Senegalese media reported.
President Sall called for three days of mourning.
“To their mothers and families, I express my deepest condolences,” Sall had tweeted upon hearing the news of the fire.
His chief of staff, Minister Augustin Tine, visited the remains of the hospital on Thursday.
“We have become close to people, particularly parents,” he said. We have come to share the suffering, she added, “to share our condolences and to say again that it is a misfortune that has hit our country, but we keep our faith.”
The deadly fire comes a year after four other newborns died in a fire at a hospital in Linguere, northern Senegal.
A series of other deaths have also raised concerns about maternal and child health in the West African nation known for having some of the best hospitals in the region.
Earlier this month, authorities discovered that a baby who had been declared dead by a nursing assistant was still alive in a morgue. The baby later died.
Last year a pregnant woman died in Louga, in the north of the country, after waiting in vain for a caesarean section. Three midwives received six-month suspended sentences for failing to help a person in distress.
Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, who was attending the World Health Assembly in Geneva, cut his trip short to return to Senegal.