Over 1 000 infants have died at Soweto’s Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital over a period of three years. This is according to the MEC for Health Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, in written reply to questions at the Gauteng Legislature.

The MEC was responding to the questions posed by the Gauteng Shadow Health MEC Jack Bloom. Ramokgopa said the deaths were caused by prematurity, infection, asphyxia (lack of oxygen) and congenital abnormalities.

She reportedly said no baby had been born with brain damage, but those with severe asphyxia could get brain damage, which manifests as cerebral palsy.

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Some 293 babies were born with mild asphyxia between 2014-2016, and 28 babies had severe asphyxia.

It was revealed that more than 400 babies die every year during birth. In 2014, the hospital recorded 446 deaths, with another 446 in 2015 and a further 426 in 2016. The total number of births in these three years was 61 507, of which 1 338 resulted in death.

Bloom said there was a need to establish whether any of those baby deaths were avoidable, since there were various reasons listed.

He told DESTINY that the problems at the hospital were largely down to poor management. “For instance, there has not been a permanent CEO at Bara Hospital since January last year. Too many appointments are made for political reasons, rather than competence,” he said.

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Bloom said he suspected that negligence was a factor in the deaths of babies and in causing brain damage to new-born babies. It has been reported that there are 18 vacancies at the neo-natal and maternity units at the hospital.

Asked if the party was doing anything to assist the department, he said its role was to expose the problems so that people know about them and can push for improvements.

“The DA believes that staff must be appointed purely on competence to do the job and that corruption must be cleaned up as well. There should also be an investigation into the deaths and babies with brain damage to establish why there are so many cases and what can be done to minimise them,” he said.