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Johannesburg - The Gauteng Department of Health has promised to fix electrical wiring at Dobsonville’s Itireleng Community Health Centre by the end of the week following public outcry over a baby’s death. But the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) says there are bigger issues.

The baby girl’s death at the Soweto clinic on May 30 sparked a public war of words between the department and Denosa, which had released a statement prior to the child’s death warning that power cuts dating back to 2011 were endangering the lives of patients.

Born underweight and premature, the baby died soon after birth despite being given oxygen and placed in an incubator. Nurses said a faulty incubator was to blame.

“We put her in the incubator and oxygen was given as well, but while she was in the incubator, her condition changed,” said a nurse who had been working in the maternity ward when the baby was born.

She asked not to be identified.

She said the baby soon began to turn blue from lack of oxygen. “We called a doctor immediately, and while the doctor was busy with her, we called an ambulance,” she said. “The baby died during that time and we found that the machine (incubator) was not working.”

The department denies the equipment was faulty. “The baby was at no stage put in an incubator as alleged in media reports,” said the Gauteng Department of Health’s head of communications, Prince Hamnca.

He said repairs to safeguard the clinic’s power supply should be completed by the end of this week. “The departments of health and infrastructure development are working to improve electricity supply to the clinic. Contractors are upgrading the transformer and associated systems. This process is expected to be completed this week and thereafter the electricity challenges will be minimised,” Hamnca said.

But patients say the baby’s death has rattled their confidence in the clinic.

“I feel scared about this,” said Thembelihle Shinga, who is three months pregnant and due to give birth at the clinic. “Only if it is true that the machines are fixed will I have hope that my baby will be safe when I deliver.”

Denosa Gauteng provincial organiser Matshidiso Dipudi said the clinic’s incubators were working and the clinic had received a neonatal resuscitation bed, which keeps warm babies struggling to breathe as nurses provide emergency care.

But Dipudi said the baby’s death had exposed the Health Department’s lack of emergency-response planning.

“The department does not have a crisis-intervention plan,” said Dipudi, who said nearby Zola Clinic also struggled with power cuts and understaffing. “In future, we want to know where we stand so we are not sucking our thumbs.” – Health-e News Service with additional reporting by Laura Lopez Gonzalez

The Star