Israeli doctors in Romania to assist 7 premature babies hurt in fire say can’t do much more

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Israeli doctors in Romania to help burned newborns

BUCHAREST, Romania — Israeli doctors who rushed to Romania on Wednesday said they feared there was not much they could do to help seven premature infants who were critically burned in a hospital fire that left four other babies dead.

Romanian doctors at Bucharest’s Grigore Alexandrescu children’s hospital where the injured babies are being treated said the infants weigh just 1 to 2.5 kilograms (2.2 to 5.5 pounds) and are burned on up to 80 percent of their bodies and respiratory tracts.

Responding to a public outcry about the accident, Bucharest deputy mayor Mircea Iovici said city hall had fired the management at the maternity hospital. There were also calls for the resignation of Health Minister Attila Cseke.

Monday’s blaze at Giulesti maternity hospital forced the evacuation of dozens of babies and women — some in labor and provoked a wave of public indignation, throwing light on Romania’s poorly funded and understaffed health system.

Romanian health official Marius Savu said there had been one nurse on duty at the intensive care unit instead of the mandatory four because of staffing cuts, Mediafax news agency reported.

Doctor Josef Haik, part of a team from Tel Aviv University, told reporters that “I don’t think we can do any more here.”

“Their condition can change at any moment, but they are cared for by a professional team,” he said. “We’ve treated premature babies, but we have not seen so many cases in one place.”

Thousands of doctors have left Romania in recent years for better paid jobs abroad. Hospitals are understaffed and cannot hire, as the government battles a sharp economic downturn and tries to keep the budget deficit down.

Relations with Israel have become closer in recent months, after six Israeli airmen died in a helicopter crash in July during joint training exercises with Romania. President Traian Basescu promised Israeli counterpart, Shimon Peres, that his country would be a “loyal partner” of Israel in the event of a conflict with Iran.

Savu said he had discussed transferring some of the infants to Israel, but was advised against it.

Dozens of people gathered outside the hospital, where the fire occurred, to light candles and leave flowers and fluffy toys. Mothers later said prayers and released dozens of balloons representing the souls of the dead infants in a ceremony they called “the flight of angels.”

It is still not clear what caused the fire, but unconfirmed media reports pointed to a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. An investigation is still under way to determine the cause of the blaze.

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