Baby-killing superbug highlights health crisis in Gauteng

Severe overcrowding and understaffing blamed.

A superbug outbreak that claimed 10 lives in Tembisa Tertiary Hospital highlights a staff management crisis in government hospitals, concerned groups have said.

The multi-drug resistant bacteria klebsiella pneumonia was initially suspected to be behind the deaths of 10 infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (Nicu). It later emerged that carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae was behind the deaths of 17 babies between November and December last year.

This angered the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU), who claimed hospital staff were aware of rampant infant deaths at the hospital, suggesting the problem wasn’t new.

“Neonatal nurses and doctors know for a fact the death of infants is all in a day’s work,” said the union’s Lerato Madumo Gova.

“It is well expected that a hospital that caters for a densely populated area such as Tembisa and still must cater for an area such as Diepsloot, housing 350,000 citizens who are without a hospital within their proximity, would encounter such a problem.”

Severe overcrowding and understaffing was blamed for a 2018 klebsiella outbreak that killed two babies at the Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus. At least seven infants in the hospital were reportedly infected by the bug that year.

Recent data from the Gauteng health department showed there were nursing staff shortages in most public hospitals in Gauteng, but Tembisa Tertiary Hospital was among the few that did not have nursing staff vacancies according to the department’s figures from December 2019.

Helen Joseph Academic Hospital in Johannesburg had the highest number of vacancies, with a nursing vacancy rate of 12.5%, and admin and support staff shortages reaching 22.61% and 24.71% respectively in the last financial year.

Reacting to the recent deaths at the facility, chairperson of the portfolio committee on health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said the deaths of the babies was a painful occurrence that should never have happened. She called on government to institute better infection control measures.

DA Gauteng MPL Jack Bloom said harsh working conditions for critical staff such as nurses and a lack of adequate management compounded capacity issues at the province’s government hospitals.


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