The Eastern Cape health department is investigating the death of 29 babies at the Cecilia Makhiwane Hospital in East London, a spokesman said.
"MEC Sicelo Gqobana has ordered an urgent probe into death of 29 neonates... being treated at the hospital's paediatric intensive care unit," spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said in a statement.
He said the babies died in January 2011. The matter was not reported to the department, which only became aware of it this week following media enquiries.
"The MEC is particularly concerned that hospital authorities have failed to report the deaths when he visited the hospital and met with management, doctors, nurses and organised labour two weeks ago."
Babies were referrals
Preliminary investigations by hospital authorities revealed that 23 of the 29 babies were referrals from clinics and hospitals around East London.
"The babies were all extremely low birth weight, below 1kg. Thirteen of them died from HIV-related complications. Doctors also noted klebsiella on three neonates. However the department at this stage cannot conclude that there has been an epidemic or outbreak."
A team of epidemiologists, senior officials and doctors had been sent to the hospital as part of the investigation. It would look at infection prevention control issues, amongst other things.
Kupelo said the department would receive 100 additional emergency vehicles in April 2011, and was also considering getting specialised ambulances for pregnant women and newborn babies. The ambulances would be fitted with ventilators to try and reduce the province's infant mortality rate.
(Sapa, March 2011)