Water contamination cited in E Cape child deaths

Water contamination was a factor in the death of nearly 80 babies in the Eastern Cape, the provincial government said on Wednesday.

An interim report acknowledged that a “multiplicity of causes”, including “systematic failures affecting water quality”, were to blame for the deaths of the babies, said the provincial government in a statement.

Last week, reports emerged that 78 children from the Eastern Cape towns of Barkly East, Maclear, Sterkspruit and Elliot had died as a result of diarrhoea allegedly caused by contaminated water.

An official health report, tabled two weeks ago at a closed council meeting, indicated there had been a breakdown in a water-purification works in October last year.

Urgent action, including declaring an emergency in the area, was apparently recommended but not carried out.

The municipality said the Cloete Joubert Hospital in Barkly East failed to report the deaths in time for a proper investigation, but a senior hospital manager said the municipality did nothing until 15 deaths were reported.

On Wednesday, the provincial government said other socioeconomic factors were also to blame, including poverty, poor service delivery, environmental health and human resource “challenges”.

For example, there had been inadequate intravenous fluids and antibiotics to deal with the babies who became ill.

People in the community also did not have enough health education.

The provincial government said the report was compiled based on investigations by the district municipality, the provincial and national departments of health and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry.

A final report analysing all the causes of the baby deaths will be forwarded to the provincial minister of health and the premier.

Doctors, nurses, social workers and health promoters are working in the area to conduct awareness campaigns.

The municipality was working with Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and the Public Works Department to ensure chlorination of all water services that are subject to treatment.—Sapa

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