Two newborns have died and two others are in serious condition following an outbreak of a rare bacterial infection in the intensive-care unit of state-owned Al Wasl Hospital.

Hospital authorities told XPRESS that the hospital has partially shut down the intensive care unit and stopped admitting expectant mothers who are likely to develop birth-related complications.

An official statement from the hospital has confirmed the incidents. "Two newborn babies have died and two are in serious condition in the Premature and Newborn Department in Al Wasl Hospital due to infection caused by the bacteria called Serratia Marcescens," a hospital statement said, quoting its director.

Hospital director Dr Abdullah Al Khayyat said they have suspended admitting women pregnant with twins or likely to have a premature birth for delivery.

"A committee has been set up to investigate the deaths of the newborn babies. The babies in the beds near the two who died were given antibiotics while all others have been tested for bacterial infections," he added.

Dr Al Khayyat pointed out that the bacterium is likely to be found in busy hospitals.

"Admissions have risen by 150 per cent because of our high standards and low cost." He added that the hospital is under great pressure because of the large number of patients admitted.

Earlier, an official at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said: "The intensive care unit for premature infants has been shut down for maintenance. Any case requiring intensive care is sent to Dubai Hospital."

The hospital has also stopped administering delivery-inducing medicines among expectant mothers as a precautionary measure.

Mother inconsolable

Mirvat Al Wakil, 35, a Syrian mother who delivered twin sons at the hospital on December 24, lost one son, Abad, on January 4 after 11 days in the incubator.

Her surviving son, Jad, is in serious condition at the isolation section of the hospital with 12 other newborns.

Mirvat, whose request to shift Jad to another hospital was declined, complained about the shabby performance of hospital staff.

The babies were in the hospital's ICU incubators in order to gain more weight.

On January 2, at 11.30am she found Jad (who weighed 1.32 kg at birth) having breathing problems.

"The nurse came and just tapped his back. Jad's breathing stopped five times in a span of two minutes at around 2.30am on January 3."

A subsequent test found that his haemoglobin level was dangerously low and doctors prescribed blood transfusion. Blood taken from Rashid Hospital was given to Jad at 7.30am.

Later when Mirvat checked on Abad, she found him extremely pale, though doctors assured her that the baby was normal.

A check revealed Abad had a high fever and had difficulty breathing. He also had low haemoglobin. Abad was taken to the special care unit for a quick blood transfusion.

"I was watching from the other side of the glass window. It seems to me the trainee and the doctor struggled to find the vein. I saw baby's colour turn from pale to blue," said Mirvat.

"Then the doctor came outside screaming at me: ‘You're going to lose your baby because you're irritating us, you're nagging and complaining too much. The baby is very weak, and his vein can't take the blood and the bacteria have spread'."

Mirvat's account could not be verified with hospital authorities.

Overcrowding blamed

A senior official admitted the cause of the bacteria outbreak is overcrowding in the ICU, which currently holds twice its capacity of 32 newborns.

The official said: "Al Wasl is the cheapest hospital for maternity care and therefore we have both an influx of local and non-local patients. This has led to added pressure and the cause of the bacteria in all probability is overcrowding."

At the moment, the hospital is taking steps to ensure that the bacteria are contained. "The baby who has been infected with the bacteria is being monitored in the isolation cell. In the meantime, we are also screening the staff, equipment and the nursery area three times a day," said the official.

Another official said the hospital takes responsibility for the patient but does not take responsibility for the baby.

"Before delivery we ask parents to sign a consent form that in case the baby needs ICU we will not be held responsible as there is no space available. To avoid this we are not accepting such cases at the moment," she added.

The fatal bug

Serratia Marcescens is an infectious and harmful type of bacteria that can be fatal. It occurs almost exclusively within hospitals, spreading through the use of medical equipment like catheters and incubators.

Ten newborns died after contracting Serratia Marcescens (SM) at Mario Rivas, a hospital in Honduras, in March last year.

In 2005, an SM outbreak gripped the Royal Hospital in Sheffield, UK, targeting several inpatients and staff alike. A special bio-decontamination of its neonatal unit had to be carried out after heightened hygiene controls alone failed to stop the pathogen's spread.


  • Parents of Abad have lodged a complaint against the hospital raising the following points:
  • Legal investigation in the death of their child
  • The carelessness and negligence in the intensive care unit and the contradiction in the doctors' opinions
  • The poor condition of their second child
  • The spread of the bacteria in the unit

(With inputs from Faisal Masudi and Mohammed N. Al Khan, staff reporters)

You Speak

Will this incident prevent you from visiting Al Wasl Hospital?

Do you have any relative as a patient at the hospital?

What can visitors do to reduce the chances such a bacterial outbreak will recur?

Your comments

Prompt service and good hygiene are important in a hospital. All patients need to be attended to immediately as they walk into the hospital. For this, all staff and nurses are to be trained. people who love others and have a commitment to serve the sick need to be employed. Also the use of good and effective disinfectants to steralise the hospitals is a must. I have personally gone through bad time when we went to Al Wasel as my son was suffering with pneumonia. His fever was shooting high and the Dr's at emergency just wasted too much time. Then next day we took him to a private hospital in Bur Dubai. Live and let live as they are our tomorrow. Put your self in that mothers place she will never forget it all her life.
Anonymous, UAE - Dubai
Posted: January 16, 2008, 13:35

Al Zahra Hospital Sharjah. My 4-day-old newborn daughter contracted RSV in this hospital. She was very jaundiced and very lethargic. The doctors only tortured her with a painful blood draw and a harmful chest X-ray. The doctors medical treatment was equivalent to nothing! They never accepted responsibility, they never apologized and who knows if they warned other mothers and newborns of this RSV infection in the nursery. 23,000 AED later and excellent treatment at American Hospital Dubai, thank GOD my baby is now healthy.
A, UAE - Sharjah
Posted: January 14, 2008, 23:00

Of course it will. Now that this happened to that hospital. I will not trade the life of my child whom I carried lovingly inside me for 9 months with a few thousand dirhams that i will save on giving birth in that hospital. I believe that Public health should be given top priority by this government.
shedya, UAE - Dubai
Posted: January 13, 2008, 17:31