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Tragedy Of Romanian Hospital Blaze Continues

Tue, 08/17/2010 - 6:42am

Alina Wolfe Murray, AP

A fourth baby died Tuesday and seven remained in critical condition following a fire at a Bucharest maternity hospital. Authorities launched an investigation to determine what caused the blaze late Monday at Giulesti maternity hospital. The accident provoked a wave of public indignation, throwing light on Romania's poorly funded and understaffed health system. Health Minister Attila Cseke said the accident was one of the “darkest tragedies in the history of Romania's health care system.”

He said 53 babies and 61 women — some in labor — were evacuated to other hospitals. Cseke said the hospital will stay closed until the investigation is finalized. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire, but Romanian media said it may have started due to a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. Health ministry official Raed Arafat said authorities will confirm the identity of all babies through DNA samples, after the plastic bracelets they wore for identification melted in the fire.

Thousands of doctors have left Romania in recent years for better paying jobs abroad. Hospitals are understaffed and cannot hire, as the government — facing a sharp economic downturn — is trying to keep the budget deficit down. Reports of hospital patients who have to buy bandages, medicines and syringes abound in the Romanian media. Even some doctors concede they lack things like surgical thread and cannot perform surgery unless the patients buy it.

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