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Tunisia Health Minister Quits over Deaths of 11 Newborns

Tunisia’s health minister,  Abderraouf Cherif has resigned after the sudden deaths of 11 newborn babies at a state maternity hospital sparked an outcry in the country.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed accepted Abderraouf Cherif’s resignation, the premier’s office said on Facebook late on Saturday. “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.

Leading newspaper Essafa on Sunday cried foul and compared the deaths of the babies to a “state crime”. A medical association said the sudden deaths could have been caused by a food product that had gone bad.

The babies died on Thursday and Friday at the Rabta clinic in Tunis, which is part of a large medical centre in the capital.  Since then authorities have launched several investigations, including medical and hygiene checks by the health ministry, which was also probing the management of the hospital pharmacy.

Prosecutors said they had opened a judicial inquiry into the deaths. The Tunisian pediatrics society wrote in a statement on Facebook that “elements of the ongoing investigation” pointed to an infection caused by a food product given by gastric tube.

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 of other babies in the maternity ward”.

The independent Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights had called on the health minister to resign over the deaths. The public health system, once a source of pride in Tunisia, has been hit by management and financial problems that lowered standards and caused drug shortages.

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