Health Minister Diouf Sarr was relieved of his duties Thursday, and has been replaced by a senior ministry official, Marie Khemesse Ngom Ndiaye, according to a government statement.
Sarr was attending the World Health Assembly conference in Geneva during the time of the fire at the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital, which occurred late Wednesday. He cut short his trip and returned to Senegal Thursday, the health ministry said.
Before his dismissal, Sarr told local radio station RFM that the blaze which engulfed the Tivaouane hospital’s newborn unit was caused by an electrical short circuit.
Senegal has been rocked by a number of recent health care scandals, including a fire last year at the neonatal unit of a hospital in Linguere, in the country’s north. Four babies were killed in the Linguere hospital fire, the health ministry said last April.
The reported death in April of a pregnant woman who was refused a cesarean by three midwives also sparked outrage in the country.
The Senegalese minister of regional planning and local government, Cheikh Bamba Dièye, expressed displeasure with what he described as “the recurrence of tragedies” in the country’s hospitals while urging a probe of its health systems.
“I am appalled by the horrific and unacceptable death of 11 newborn babies in Tivaouane. The recurrence of tragedies in our hospitals reminds us of the obligation to thoroughly review the quality of service in our hospitals. My deepest condolences to the families,” he said in a Twitter post Thursday.
A Twitter user, Massaly Samba, wrote: “…Our hospitals have become places of death. Too much negligence, indifference, casualness!… Hasn’t going to the hospital become a risk today?”
Another Twitter user, Mouride_Bi, questioned why the newborns killed in the latest hospital fire were not evacuated when the blaze began.
“11 babies. How could this happen? How could they leave those babies in the fire? Why didn’t they evacuate them when the fire started? Were emergency services alerted in time? Were there no emergency fire extinguishers on these premises…? No, but that is unacceptable!”
Sall declared three days of national mourning from Thursday and flags will fly at half-mast during this period, a statement from the Presidency said.
The President also launched an investigation into the cause of the fire.