Senegal’s President Macky Sall fired his health minister on Thursday as his country mourned the death of 11 newborn babies in a hospital fire blamed on an electrical short circuit.
The tragedy late Wednesday in the western city of Tivaouane was just the latest in a series of hospital deaths that have exposed the weaknesses of the nation’s healthcare system.
Sall earlier announced the tragedy on Twitter and declared three days of national mourning.
“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 wrote.
“To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy.”
Outside the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in Tivaouane, a city with a population of 40,000, one of the distraught mothers called out for her son.
“Where is Mohamed?” she cried.
Her baby son was taken to the hospital 10 days ago and was baptised on Monday, Mohamed’s 54-year-old father Alioune Diouf said.
The city’s mayor Demba Diop said the fire had been caused by a short circuit and spread very quickly.
He denied allegations from relatives at the hospital and across social media that the babies had been left alone, saying a midwife and nurse were present on Wednesday evening.
“There was a noise and an explosion that lasted three minutes at most,” he said outside the hospital entrance.
“Five minutes after, the fire brigade arrived. People used fire extinguishers.”
The mayor said the air-conditioning had accelerated the flames and added that the two nurses fainted but were revived.
“There was no negligence,” Diop insisted.
The disaster however sparked calls for the resignation of Health Minister Abdoudaye Diouf Sarr, who was quoted in media reports also as blaming an electrical fault.
The presidency in the evening said he would be replaced by Marie Khemesse Ngom Ndiaye, formerly the director-general of the public health authority.
Sall would return early from abroad and visit the hospital on Saturday, his office said.