Author`s name AP ©

Thirteen premature babies die at Turkish hospital over weekend

A team of doctors is investigating the weekend deaths of 13 newborn babies at a hospital in western Turkey, officials said Monday.

The babies - all of them premature - died late Saturday and early Sunday at Izmir's Tepecik hospital.

It was the second such incident in Turkey in three months.

In July, more than two-dozen newborns died at a hospital for high-risk births in the capital, Ankara. Government-appointed doctors investigating the deaths said a shortage of personnel was to blame.

The team of doctors looking into the deaths in Izmir is expected to release preliminary findings Monday, Izmir health department head Mehmet Ozkan said.

The Dogan news agency said a local prosecutor is also investigating whether neglect may have been a factor.

Hospitals in small towns in Turkey generally lack specialized premature birth units, and high-risk or premature babies are often taken to larger hospitals in cities such Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir.

Health workers unions say, however, that the larger hospitals are often understaffed or ill-equipped to care for large numbers of newborns.

"These unfortunate deaths are very saddening," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "There may have been neglect, this will become clear after the investigation."

"Premature births constitute a high risk, and this may have played a part, too," he said.

Tepecik hospital was caring for 41 newborns overnight Saturday. After the 13 deaths, the unit was placed under quarantine and no new babies have been admitted.

In August, investigators looking into the deaths of 27 newborns at an Ankara hospital concluded that a staff shortage had increased the risk of infection.

Turkey's infant mortality rate is relatively high, at 23.66 in 1,000 in 2005, compared with that of its EU-member neighbor Greece, where 3.8 newborns out of 1,000 died the same year, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.