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Tunisian health minister resigns after 11 babies die in hospital

Fethi Belaid, AFP | Ambulances covered in the Tunisian national flag in the capital Tunis on July 8 2018. 11 newborn babies died at a maternity clinic in less than 24 hours on March 7and 8 2019.

Tunisia’s health minister Abdel-Raouf El-Sherif resigned on Saturday after 11 babies mysteriously died within 24 hours in a hospital in the capital, state news agency TAP said.

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The health ministry and state prosecutors have launched investigations into the cause of the babies’ death which was likely due to a blood infection, it said. The babies all died within 24 hours on Thursday and Friday at the Rabta clinic.

Prosecutors said they had opened a judicial inquiry into the deaths.

"Those responsible for any negligence will face legal proceedings," the prime minister said at the maternity hospital in the capital late Saturday, according to a video released by his office.

A medical association said the sudden deaths could have been caused by a food product that had gone bad.

The Tunisian pediatrics society wrote in a Facebook statement that “elements of the ongoing investigation” pointed to an infection caused by an intravenous feeding product.

'Precarious working conditions'

The association called on the authorities to “shed light” on the situation and recalled the “precarious conditions in which health professionals work”.

The health ministry said in a statement that “preventive measures and treatment have been taken to avoid other victims and to ensure the health status of other babies in the maternity ward”.

Tunisians have complained about a decline of state services since the overthrow of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 which has brought a democratic transition but also thrown the country into an economic crisis.

Government critics say the public sector is rife with corruption.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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