updated 8/4/2008 3:03:01 PM ET 2008-08-04T19:03:01

Turkey's Health Ministry launched an investigation Monday into the deaths of more than two dozen newborn babies at a hospital in Ankara in the past two weeks.

The Zekai Tahir Burak hospital has acknowledged that 27 babies died there, but said most of the deaths were due to complications related to premature delivery.

Most of the 26,000 babies born each year or admitted to Zekai Tahir Burak are premature, as the hospital handles high-risk births. The hospital could not immediately say how many babies were delivered in the two week period involving the 27 deaths.

Turkey's infant mortality rate is relatively high, however, with 23.6 in 1,000 newborns dying in 2005, compared with 3.8 in 1,000 in neighboring Greece, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But a health workers union said 27 recent deaths in two weeks was too high and blamed poor sanitary conditions and negligence.

Health Minister Recep Akdag ordered an inquiry, and the ministry set up a team of investigators to look into practices at the hospital, which has one of the busiest maternity wards in the capital. The hospital says it has capacity for 122 newborns at a time, but often has up to 180.

The ministry said the results of the investigation would be made public.

"The necessary measures will be taken if anyone is found to be at fault," it said in a statement.

Over the weekend, Dr. Ugur Dilmen, who heads the hospital's newborn unit, said the babies' deaths were the result of birth defects, heart failure, hernia, hypertension and stillbirth.

The hospital said tests had ruled out infection as a possible cause.

"None of the deaths were caused by a hospital infection," chief physician Leyla Mollamahmutoglu said.

The Health and Social Services Workers union, however, questioned the hospital's sanitary conditions. Union chief Kemal Yilmaz said Monday that visitors entered the newborn unit with plastic booties over shoes, but no masks.

Yilmaz also suggested the hospital was understaffed and overcrowded, with up to three newborns placed in one incubator.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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