Infant deaths still a concern

Estelle Ellis and Brian Hayward

SLEEPING SOUNDLY ... A nurse at the Dora Nginza maternity unit keeps watch over a newborn. Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

ONE of the city’s most controversial units, the maternity ward at Dora Nginza Hospital has made headlines for all the wrong reasons following horror stories from mothers who blame staff for complications arising with the birth of their babies.

The unit has a “slightly higher than average” infant mortality rate – the national norm is 43 per 1000 births – and a caesarian rate of 55%, a substantial 30% above the national average.

But PE Hospital Complex clinical governance head Aydin Vehbi said this was because it was the only state unit in the region which did complicated birthing procedures and caesarians.

“We are the only institution which does state caesarian sections in the region. Anything that’s complicated, comes to us. One of the most frustrating things is trying to justify the caesarian section rate compared to the national rate,” Vehbi said.

The Health Department would like a higher rate of uncomplicated births, as they are less labour intensive and mothers recover quicker.

The maternity unit’s two recently vacated medical officer posts could also not be filled until next month as there was no budget for it, he said. Despite this, all the most senior positions were filled.

The higher rate of complicated births was also the reason for the “slightly higher” infant mortality rate.

“It’s not a case of inferior treatment, but because the patient is sent to us too late,” Vehbi said.

Also bearing heavily on the unit, is that one in every three pregnant women in the city tests positive for HIV, according to the department.

A report into maternal deaths, commissioned by the National Health Department, says HIV-infection is one of the leading causes of mothers dying during labour.

Dora Nginza’s maternal mortality rate is 209 for every 100000 births.

Since Dora Nginza’s maternity ward hit the headlines for its chronic understaffing and rocketing number of complaints and lawsuits in 2007, measures to curb overcrowding – including opening a unit where qualified midwives handle uncomplicated births – have been introduced.

Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the unit’s functionality should not be measured by the number of lawsuits against the hospital.

“Dora Nginza deals with complicated birth cases and as such there is an increased risk of complications which could result in legal claims,” he said.

Late last year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told Parliament that South Africa must aim for an average of 100 maternal deaths for every 100000 births, in order to meet the United Nation’s millennium development goals.

Leave a Reply

Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment moderation policy. Your email address is required but will not be published.