Russian prosecutors investigate hospital where babies' mouths allegedly taped shut

Prosecutors said Thursday they are investigating allegations that workers at a Russian hospital taped infants' mouths shut in order keep them from crying, in a scandal that has sparked outrage in the country.

In a separate incident raising further concern at the ailing state of Russia's health system, a criminal probe began at a kindergarten where an employee gave unauthorized injections to children to help them sleep.

The alleged taping incident at a hospital in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) east of Moscow, has received wide coverage in the Russian media.

According to a statement posted on the Prosecutor General's Web site Thursday, investigators found hospital workers on several occasions allegedly used tape or sticking plaster to shut the mouths of infants in order to silence them.

There were conflicting reports whether the infants were all orphans and it was unclear whether one or several workers were involved.

Regional prosecutors were conducting a criminal probe into whether workers committed dereliction of duty or child abuse, the statement said. It was unclear if charges would be filed against hospital employees.

Earlier this week Russian TV broadcast footage reportedly taken with a mobile telephone that showed one sleeping baby lying in a crib with what appeared to be a pacifier plastered to its mouth.

The Interfax news agency on Tuesday reported that Yekaterinburg city health officials had reprimanded the hospital chief doctor and its chief nurse.

Russia's health and welfare system from hospitals to orphanages to preventative medicine clinics fell into disrepair after the Soviet collapse as government funding dried up. Though high world oil prices have pumped government coffers full in recent years, many welfare institutions remain neglected, often due to corruption, and employees are often paid miserly wages.

In Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, on the Pacific island of Sakhalin, regional prosecutor Tatyana Kutuzova said in televised comments that investigators had opened a criminal probe into whether a worker injected children to calm them down or to help them sleep, reports AP.

She said in comments televised on NTV that the worker lacked the necessary training and qualification and should not have been working in the kindergarten.

Regional education official Lyubov Kuritsina said the worker had been fired.

In another recent incident that caused widespread shock, an infant in southern Russia had to have her arm amputated after an injection for a routine illness caused a blood infection.

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