They believe that the source of the babies’ infection is the milk formula, which is mixed in another unit. The babies died of diarrhoea while in the paediatric ICU.
‘We believe that we are soft targets for the department,’ said one of the health workers, who declined to be named.
‘But some babies who were not in the ICU but were also given formula milk got diarrhoea. About five babies who were in Ward 184 with their mothers got diarrhoea and were then admitted to ICU. Another baby who had been discharged also got diarrhoea and was treated in casulty.’
Another health worker said that the working conditions in ICU were not conducive to giving the babies proper care: ‘There are supposed to be three babies per nurse in the paediatric ICU but we usually have to look after about five babies each. Then there are new admissions to be taken care of. These are usually premature babies who have just been born and who need to be ventilated or need oxygen.’
Health workers also pointed out that they worked 12-hour shifts, and that, with long hours and overcrowding, ‘mistakes will happen’.
Meanwhile, Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu conceded that the ICU ward where the babies were being cared for was ‘overcrowded’, with 15 more babies than the 35 allowed. The hospital has since moved some babies to another ward.
Meanwhile, Hospital CEO Barney Selebano announced that the diarrhoea was caused by a norovirus, one of the most common causes of gastro-intestinal infections.
The highly infectious norovirus is usually spread either via direct contact from an infected person or through contaminated water and food.
It is often caused when a person gets the virus from faeces and then does not wash their hands properly.
The Gauteng Health Department says that the investigation into the babies’ deaths will be completed by the end of the month.