DESPITE the challenges posed by the covid19 pandemic, the Children's Life Fund Authority is doing its best to ensure that children who need urgent medical care overseas are able to get it.
So said authority chair Dr Diane Alexander and director Karen Seebaran-Blondet to members of the Local Authorities, Service Commissions and Statutory Authorities joint select committee (JSC) during a virtual meeting on Wednesday.
Seebaran-Blondet said 11 children were sent overseas for medical care in 2020, and four have gone overseas this year. Air ambulance services were used in all of these cases.
Alexander explained,"Because of the covid pandemic, we do not have access to regular flights and we have to use the air ambulance service."
She said some air ambulances have suspended their service to Trinidad and Tobago because of the pandemic. The cost of this service, Alexander continued, has increased considerably."
To date, I think we have spent just over $3 million in air ambulance services."
She said it could cost $29,000 to transport a child out of TT to an overseas medical institution and the same figure to bring them home.
"That's an astronomical figure, when an air ambulance is bringing back a well child and his or her parent," Alexander said,"(But) we cannot easily access the services of CAL (Caribbean Airlines)."
She said the authority had spoken to the Health Ministry to meet with the Finance Ministry (line ministry for CAL), "to discuss how we can access CAL,"
She added it was unnecessary to use an air ambulance to bring a healthy child back home.
Alexander thanked Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram for granting access for the parents of children going overseas for medical care to be vaccinated.
"Arrangements can be made for that parent to have the vaccine, outside of the guidelines that have been set by the (Health) Ministry."
In response, JSC chairman Dr Varma Deyalsingh said, "At least covid is not preventing us from helping these children."
Describing being a a parent as a privilege, Deyalsingh empathised with authority officials on occasions when they have to tell parents they cannot help their children to get the medical treatment they need.
Alexander said another difficulty the authority has experienced is "some of the international institutions that previously worked with us, during this covid pandemic, they have ceased to offer treatment to our children."
She added the authority must also ensure that whatever medical institution it is sending children to is accredited "and we have the blessing of the Ministry of Health to have a child go to such a centre."
The authority has one such case under consideration at present, she said.
Seebaran-Blondet regretted that five children died last year before they could go abroad for care. In one case, she said the child developed a complication while waiting to travel. In another, the child died while the application process with the authority was ongoing.
Deyalsingh commented, "It's a tragedy when you hear of some of these cases."