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Wed Apr 23 20:19:56 SAST 2014

Tragedy of baby deaths

HARRIET MCLEA | 18 April, 2011 23:020 Comments
Baby deaths have been highlighted at East London's Frere Hospital. Pic: ALAN EASON. 04/07/2007. © Dail Dispatch. SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN: Exhausted Frere Hospital maternity staff are stretched so thin they are forced to abandon the nursery and leave babies unattended at night to assist doctors in theatre. l Full report tomorrow.

A critical shortage of qualified midwives is to blame for the shocking number of babies who die at birth.

In response to a question in the National Council of Provinces last week, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said there was a severe shortage of "highly trained paediatricians, advanced midwives and highly trained paediatric nurses".

"We do not have many of these in many of our hospitals," he said.

Motsoaledi admitted that the percentage of vacant nursing posts filled in each province was "very bad".

The worst-performing province was Eastern Cape, where less than 40% of an unspecified number of vacancies had been filled. The best-performing province was the Free State, where almost 89% of vacant posts had been filled.

"Eastern Cape is suffering because of a lack of funds and I'm going to have to sit down and discuss this [with the provincial health department]," Motsoaledi said.

But he said the department had filled more than 3000 nursing posts in Limpopo since February .

The shortage of skilled midwives has contributed to South Africa's failure in meeting the UN's fourth Millennium Development Goal - reducing child mortality.

Statistics released last week by The Lancet, the UK medical journal, show that every day more than 61 babies are stillborn and 58 die shortly after birth.

Motsoaledi admitted that maternal and infant mortality rates "are so high that we can say they are starting to be out of control".

Dr Joy Lawn, of Save the Children, said that district hospitals were the biggest culprits in respect of "avoidable" stillbirths because many of their nurses were unskilled or negligent.

South Africa ranks 148th of 193 countries for its still-birth rate. It is in 10th position in Africa.

Motsoaledi told the National Council of Provinces on Thursday that more than 1.1million babies were delivered at public hospitals each year but that "most of the skilled personnel . are in the private sector in much more larger numbers than in the public sector".

"I am aware that, due to statements made in the media, many . believe that there are individual health workers who are going all out to negligently cause the death of babies."

He said that negligence would be investigated by the Health Professions' Council.

Motsoaledi said yesterday that training more midwives was part of his plan to tackle the staff shortage.

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