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Mexican Officials Fire Hospital Bosses

January 15, 2003

TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) _ Mexican state government officials have fired the top two officials at a hospital where 25 infants died in December and said they are investigating the possibility of prosecutions.

The secretary-general of Chiapas state government, Emilio Zebadua, announced late Tuesday that the director of the hospital in Comitan, Raul Belmonte Martinez, and deputy director Maria Elena Alvarez, had been replaced by a temporary management committee.

State Attorney General Mariano Herran Salvati said the bodies of some of the infants could be exhumed to further investigate the cause of death.

A team of investigators sent by the federal Health Department and by the Pan-American Health Organization said Sunday that most of the deaths were due to an unusual number of premature births and a lack of prenatal care.

Their report did not mention any possible wrongdoing by hospital administrators, according to Joaquin Molina, a PAHO consultant in Mexico City.

``We did not focus on that angle of analysis,″ he said Wednesday, and expressed hope that the report was not the basis for the firing. But he said the rate of infant mortality during December was far above normal.

The investigators recommended that the hospital receive two more neonatal ventilators and increase its number of specialized nurses and technicians.

They determined that nearly 400 babies were born at the hospital in December _ nearly double the figure for December 2001 _ and said that the hospital did not have the resources to deal with the increase.

Seventeen of the deaths were due to complications associated with premature births and eight due to infections, four of them contracted in the hospital, the study found.

Parents, however, have accused medical personnel of failing to follow sanitary procedures.

Comitan, about 30 miles northwest of the Guatemala border, serves an area with a large population of impoverished Indian communities.

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