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Senegal Sacks Health Minister After Hospital Fire

Relatives sit outside the Abdoul Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in Tivaouane, Senegal, a town 90 kms ( 60 miles) east of Dakar, where 11 newborns died in a blaze on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Senegal's President Macky Sall fired his health minister on Thursday as his country mourned the deaths of 11 newborn babies in a hospital fire blamed on an electrical short circuit. The tragedy was the latest in a series of hospital deaths plaguing the nation's healthcare system.

In the wake of the hospital blaze late Wednesday that took the lives of 11 newborns, Senegal's president has removed Health Minister Abdoudaye Diouf Sarr,.

The presidency Thursday evening announced that Marie Khemesse Ngom Ndiaye, formerly the director-general of the public health authority has been given Sarr's post..
Sall plans to return early from abroad and visit the hospital on Saturday, his office said.

When informed of the tragedy, Senegal's president issued a statement saying
"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."

"To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy," Sall added.

Tivaouane'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," Diop said.

The mayor said the hospital's air-conditioning accelerated the flames and added that the two nurses fainted but were revived.

"There was no negligence," Diop insisted.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that he was "beyond heartbroken with this tragic news.

"I'm sending my deepest condolences to the parents and families of the babies who lost their lives."

Outgoing health minister Sarr, who had been in Geneva attending a meeting with the WHO, said an investigation is under way.

The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other public health incidents in Senegal, which suffers from a great disparity between urban and rural areas in healthcare services.

Amnesty International's Senegal Director, Seydi Gassama, said his organization had called for an inspection and upgrade for neonatal services in hospitals across Senegal after the "atrocious" death of the four babies in Linguere.

With the new tragedy, Amnesty "urges the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the culprits, no matter the level they are at in the state apparatus", he tweeted.

Opposition lawmaker Mamadou Lamine Diallo also responded with outrage to the Tivaouane blaze.

"More babies burned in a public hospital... this is unacceptable @MackySall," he tweeted.

"We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is enough."