Córdoba’s health minister has resigned his post after an autopsy confirmed that at least two newborn infants were “intentionally killed” at a local maternity hospital.
Five newborns, thought to have been healthy at birth, died between March and June 2022 at the Hospital Materno Neonatal Ministro Dr. Ramón Carillo in Córdoba. Eight other babies were very unwell but did not die in the same period.
Córdoba Province Health Minister Diego Cardozo announced he would step down on Thursday, while calling for a full investigation into the tragedy.
“I [resign] with the same humility and service with which I performed this job, and also with the deep desire that the facts of what occurred in the Neonatal are absolutely clarified,” he wrote in a post on social networks.
So far at least one individual, 27-year-old nurse Brenda Agüero, has been arrested on suspicion of infanticide after post-mortem investigations found toxic levels of potassium in some of the infants. She remains in custody.
Prosecutor Raúl Garzón, who is leading the criminal probe into the deaths, said this week that the deceased babies were thought to have been born healthy, and their mothers’ health was also good.
Nine people were suspended from their duties at the hospital earlier this month whilst the investigator sought to discover if the deaths were due to homicide, negligence, or malpractice.
However, autopsy results published August 22 found two of the dead infants had been injected “intentionally” with amounts of potassium “incompatible with life.”
A fourth puncture on the babies’ back had generated suspicion, as the children had only required three injections, for hepatitis B, the BCG vaccine and vitamin K upon birth. Welts and bruises appeared near the site of the fourth jab on several bodies.
Agüero, who was responsible for vaccinating children at birth at the hospital, was arrested Monday and charged with the crime of “qualified homicide by insidious procedure.”
Garzón said there were “reasons to presume” the suspect’s responsibility.
Colleagues of Brenda, who began working at the hospital in 2020, have expressed surprise at her arrest, describing her as an excellent person and very hard-working.
Suspicions about the babies’ deaths were only aired when one of the victims’ grandmothers filed a complaint on June 6.
Three former hospital officials have subsequently been charged with malfeasance.
The hospital’s former director, Liliana Asís, and neonatology directors Marta Gómez Flores and Adriana Luisa Morales have described the accusations against them as “unfair,” releasing a statement to that end via their lawyer, Felipe Trucco, on August 24.
Cardozo has not been charged in connection with the deaths, though prosecutors have not ruled out taking a statement from the provincial health authorities.
The deaths of 13 other babies that took place over this period in the province are now being investigated, though the provincial Health Ministry said this week that other causes of death, such as low weight or malformations, were believed to be responsible.
Relatives of the deceased babies, including some of the mothers, marched in front of the hospital last week to demand answers from the authorities. Carrying candles and signs, they stood in front of the building in which they had lost their children.
The aunt of the first child killed told the Noticias Argentinas news agency: “We ask for justice, and that those in charge give us explanations: The [provincial] Health Ministry, the government, the director of the maternity department. They should explain why they did not take care of the children as was necessary and explain what went wrong.”
“We are devastated as a family,” Raúl Aragon, the father of one of the dead infants, told the Cadena 3 de Córdoba radio station. “We were trying to overcome and mourn a natural death, and now we learn that they took our son from us – that they killed him.”
Biochemist and university professor María Gabriela Barbás will replace Cardozo as Cordoba’s new health minister, according to reports.