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Thursday 21 March 2019
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Mother sues ministry for failing to care for Zika baby

Hall of Justice, Port of Spain
Hall of Justice, Port of Spain

ONE of the mothers who gave birth to a baby with microcephaly in 2017 has received permission from a High Court judge to challenge the Health Ministry’s failure to provide suitable and specialised care for her son.

Justice James Aboud, in a ruling at the San Fernando High Court on Thursday, granted the mother of the child, born on February 3, 2017, permission to pursue her judicial review claim against the ministry.

When the matter came up for hearing, attorneys for the State did not object to leave being granted and also consented to the mother’s application to call Dr Karen Sohan, then the medical chief of staff at the Mt Hope hospital, as an expert witness.

Aboud also gave directions for the filing of the claim and the State’s response. The matter will next come up for hearing on May 23.

The mother is also challenging the ministry’s failure to provide her with financial assistance despite promises that she would get a grant through the Social Development Ministry for children diagnosed with microcephaly due to the Zika virus.

She also says the ministry has failed to implement proper protocols to help mothers who gave birth to babies born with microcephaly.

The mother is seeking several declarations and compensation.

In 2017, there were four confirmed births of babies with microcephaly. The ministry said then two of the mothers tested positive for the Zika virus, the cause of the microcephaly, during the course of their pregnancies.

The mother of the child had previously been granted leave to challenge the ministry’s refusal to provide information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on the national policy on the Zika virus and pregnancy, particularly the guidelines set and the management of affected foetuses and neonatal information for health care providers.

While the mother succeeded in her initial claim for disclosure, the ministry told her the policy was in the draft stage and had not been implemented.

In her claim, the mother alleged that she and other parents with children suffering from microcephaly had a legitimate expectation that they would receive specialised treatment and counselling through the public health care system.

Her lawyers are relying on a series of public statements made by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh during the Zika outbreak in 2016.

She said, on October 31, 2016, Deyalsingh held a press conference during which he declared the outbreak a public health emergency and said his ministry had enlisted the help of microcephaly experts from Brazil, Canada and England. The lawsuit also says Deyalsingh promised the Ministry of Social Development would provide grants to families who did not have the financial resources to provide optimum care for such children.

The mother said her child has not been seen by any foreign doctors. In November 2018, she was invited to have her baby participate in a three-month-long programme funded by a Zika sub-award grant from the US Agency for International Development.

The lawsuit also says the Social Development Ministry told her there was no special grant or financial assistance for children with microcephaly, and after she applied for public assistance, she received two payments of $1,150 in July 2018 and one payment in August. She has not received any payments since.

The lawsuit also includes the report of the three-year-old’s paediatrician, Dr Devanand Lakheeram, who in September 2018 said the child cannot sit or stand without full support and has spontaneous and unco-ordinated movement of all limbs.

“In summary, (name withheld) is a severely affected microcephalic child with significant delays in his growth and neurological development in all aspects of gross and fine motor movements, language and social skills and possible visual impairment,” Lakheeram said.

The mother is being represented by attorneys Alvin Ramroop, Kingsley Walesby and Sarfraz Alsaran.

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