Health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, who was in Geneva attending a meeting with the World Health Organisation, said he would return to Senegal immediately.
“This situation is very unfortunate and extremely painful,” he said on radio. “An investigation is under way to see what happened.”
The tragedy in Tivaouane comes after several other incidents at public health facilities in Senegal, where there is great disparity between urban and rural areas in healthcare services.
In the northern town of Linguere in late April, a fire broke out at a hospital and four newborn babies were killed. The mayor of that town had cited an electrical malfunction in an air conditioning unit in the maternity ward.
Wednesday’s accident also comes over a month after the nation mourned the death of a pregnant woman who waited in vain for a Caesarean section.
The woman, named Astou Sokhna, had arrived at a hospital in the northern city of Louga in pain. The staff had refused to accommodate her request for a C-section, saying that it was not scheduled.
She died on April 1, 20 hours after she arrived.
Sokhna’s death caused a wave of outrage across the country on the dire state of Senegal’s public health system, and Mr Sarr acknowledged two weeks later that the death could have been avoided.
Three midwives – on duty the night Sokhna died – were sentenced on May 11 by the High Court of Louga to six months of suspended imprisonment for “failure to assist a person in danger” in connection to her case.
On Thursday, opposition lawmaker Mamadou Lamine Diallo tweeted in response to the Tivaouane blaze that kill the babies.
“More babies burned in a public hospital… this is unacceptable @MackySall,” he said.
“We suffer with the families to whom we offer our condolences. Enough is enough.”