Eleven newborn babies have died in a hospital fire in the western city of Tivaouane in Senegal, the country’s president has said.
The fire at Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital was in the maternity department, President Macky Sall tweeted.
Initial reports suggest the fire was caused by a short circuit, according to Senegalese politicians.
Three babies were saved from the fire, said the city’s mayor, Demba Diop Sy.
The fire spread very quickly and emergency services were still at the scene, Mr Sy told local media.
The hospital had been newly inaugurated, according to AFP, citing local media reports.
“To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy,” President Sall wrote in a tweet.
“I heard the news of the fire last night, but I did not tell my daughter. I waited until the morning to inform her,” said Ndeye Absa Gueye, who later found out her grandchild was among the dead.
“This hurts all of Senegal,” Tivaouane resident Ousmane Kane told the Reuters news agency.
“This situation is very unfortunate and extremely painful,” Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr said from Geneva, where he was attending a World Health Organization meeting.
He said an investigation was under way and he would be cutting his trip short to return to Senegal immediately.
The incident has sparked a wave of indignation on social media over the state of the country’s healthcare provision.
Opposition MP Mamadou Lamine Diallo criticised the government, tweeting: “More babies burned in a public hospital… This is unacceptable”.
Rights group Amnesty International has urged the government to create an “independent commission of inquiry to determine responsibility and punish the culprits, no matter the level they are at in the state apparatus,” country director Seydi Gassama said in a tweet.
Amnesty called for all of Senegal’s neo-natal wards to be inspected after a similar incident occurred in the northern town of Linguère last year.
Four newborn babies were killed there after a fire broke out at a hospital’s maternity ward. At the time, the mayor said there was an electrical fault in the air conditioning unit of the maternity ward.
Wednesday’s tragedy also follows a national outcry over the death of a woman in labour, Astou Sokhna, who died while reportedly begging for a Caesarean during her 20-hour labour ordeal. Her unborn child also died.