Possible link between baby formula, deaths in Joburg hospital

Two types of bacteria were found in baby formula tested at the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, but toxicology tests haven't been done.

A possible link between baby formula and necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) in premature babies could explain the deaths of nine babies recently at Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in Johannesburg, an expert has suggested.

But Stasha Jordan, director at SA Breastmilk Reserve, warned that while studies suggest a correlation between the use of formula in new-born babies and NEC – a medical condition – several factors had to be considered when such outbreaks occur.

After several infant deaths in hospitals around the country this year, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases couldn’t find the cause of the outbreak.

According to the institute, the presence of two types of bacteria were found in the baby formula they tested at the hospital. The testing revealed the presence of Bacillus and Streptococcus species in mixed and dry powder milk, however, toxin production tests were not done.

Investigations are ongoing to identify the source of the outbreak.

Yesterday, the SA Human Rights Commission conducted a site visit at the hospital, but media access was highly restricted, with staff explaining that access control at the pre-term infant ward was especially strict after the outbreak in July.

The facility appeared clean and well-staffed upon observation.

A study, endorsed by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, was one of several which found links between NEC, a condition which results in malfunction of the bowels due to infection, and a diet which wasn’t predominantly breast milk.

The study, conducted in 2016, found that among the extremely low birthweight (ELBW) infants, not being fed predominantly human milk was associated with an increased risk of NEC.

Researchers concluded that efforts to support milk production by mothers of ELBW infants may prevent infant deaths and reduce costs.

Jordan argued: “There isn’t a definite link between the two, but there is a correlation.

“But you have to take into consideration that babies born into a high-risk environment who are severely premature, outbreaks do happen and they will usually claim a number of lives in a ward.

“In my experience with Rahima Moosa, they do try their level best to prevent mortality while mothers are encouraged to breastfeed.”


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