The SAHRC will investigate whether negligence was a factor in the deaths of four babies at the George Masebe Hospital in Limpopo.
The babies died of treatable diseases amid a serious staff shortage between January 3 and 5, said South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) spokesperson Isaac Mangena, adding that the deaths could have been avoided.
"We believe the alleged shortage of doctors is not something that the provincial health department only became aware of after the deaths of these babies, and as such, pre-emptive measures should have been taken," he said.
"[We are] deeply concerned that this tragedy was allowed to happen."
Mangena said incidents such as this were a violation of the country's Constitution.
"Our Constitution clearly states that everyone has the right to have access to health care services, including reproductive health ... and the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of the right to health," he said.
Severe shortage of doctors
Beeld newspaper reported that provincial health MEC Norman Mabasa had said the 288-bed hospital should have 38 doctors, but that it had only eight.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union said only one doctor was on duty when the deaths occurred.
The SABC reported that there was not only a shortage of doctors, but that the hospital's entire management contingent was on leave at the time of the deaths.
Mabasa has reportedly since called for a commission of inquiry.
"I want to know exactly how and when each child died. As we understand it, two died shortly after they arrived in the casualty unit, and the other two died after being admitted to the wards," he told Beeld.
The commission was expected to report back to him within a week.
He promised to take action if hospital personnel were found to have been negligent.
Deploying medical assistance
The South African Medical Association has since said it will deploy doctors to the hospital's paediatric ward.
"Our members both in public and private have volunteered, starting today [Tuesday], with paediatric ward rounds," said the Association's chairperson Phophi Ramathuba.
"We will be taking turns in providing health services until the situation is normalised." – Sapa