Twelve newborn babies have died in Tunisia after acquiring infections at the public maternity hospital where they were born prematurely, the country’s interim health minister reported Monday.
Sonia Ben Sheikh, who hastily took over when Tunisia’s health minister resigned amid growing outrage, said during a news conference in Tunis that the infant deaths were “unacceptable.”
While hospital-acquired infections were the immediate cause, Ben Sheikh said the deaths at the Center for Maternity and Neonatology “resulted from a combination of deterioration and poor governance in the health sector that is going through a crisis.”
Severe blood infections from tube feedings likely killed the premature babies, the Tunisian Society of Pediatrics said in a statement.
Samples from the infants’ bodies and the hospital in Tunisia’s capital have been sent to three different laboratories to ensure the investigation is done in a “transparent and credible way, far from any suspicion,” Ben Sheikh said.
Test results won’t be available for at least 10 days, she said.
Ben Sheikh, Tunisia’s minister of youth and sports, is filling the health minister’s role left vacant by Health Minister Abderraouf Cherif’s resignation on Saturday.
Tunisian authorities have launched multiple investigations after 11 of the newborns died Friday. It’s not known when the 12th death occurred.
Public hospitals in Tunisia have faced problems for several years that have impacted services.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi convened a meeting Monday of the National Security Council to look into the scandal and its causes.
Parliament leader Mohamed Ennaceur said there will be a special session for lawmakers to discuss the case.