The mother of a two-year-old boy with birth defects associated with the Zika virus has threatened to sue the State over its failure to provide comprehensive health care for the toddler.
In a pre-action protocol letter sent to the Ministry of Health, Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh and the Office of the Attorney General on December 19, lawyers representing the woman 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.
While the letter identifies the woman and her son, their attorneys requested that they remain anonymous to protect the child.
In the proposed lawsuit, the family’s lawyers are relying on a series of public statements made by Deyalsingh during the worldwide Zika outbreak in 2016.
They claim that on October 31, 2016, Deyalsingh held a press conference during which he declared the outbreak a public health emergency and stated that his ministry had enlisted the help of microcephaly experts from Brazil, Canada and England. They also alleged that Deyalsingh promised that the Ministry of Social Development would provide grants to families who did not have the financial resources to provide optimum care for such children.
However, when they wrote to that ministry to seek the funds, they were informed that there was no special Zika grant and only an $800 grant for parents with minors with disabilities.
The family’s lawyers first sued the Health Ministry last January, after it failed to disclose details of its official policy for treating the Zika virus and associated complications as allegedly promised by Deyalsingh.
While the family succeeded in their initial claim for disclosure, the ministry informed them that the policy was in the draft stage and had not been implemented.
In addition to seeking a declaration that their legitimate expectation was breached by the State’s failure to implement its a specific policy to address the virus, the family is seeking an order compelling it to immediately provide reasonable health care to the child.
The family’s lawyers gave the parties until January 22 to respond to their letter after which they will file the lawsuit unless the reliefs sought are granted.
The T&T Guardian understands that the family’s legal team had not received a response, up to late yesterday. Contacted yesterday afternoon, Deyalsingh declined to comment on the issue.
“I would not comment on any legal matter,” he said.
According to the letter, the child was diagnosed with the condition, in which the brain does not develop resulting in a smaller than normal head when he was born at the Mt Hope Women’s Hospital on February 3, 2017.
The family’s lawyers claim that since then the child had only received basic neonatal and neurosurgical care and the family had to foot the bill for private medical tests on the toddler’s sight and hearing and for physiotherapy. They also claimed that no counselling was provided on the specialised care needed for the child throughout his life.
The letter included a medical report from the toddler’s paediatrician Dr Devanand Lakheeram, prepared in September last year, which stated that the child cannot sit or stand without full support and has spontaneous and uncoordinated movements 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 family is being represented by Alvin Ramroop, Kingsley Walesby and Sarfraz Alsaran.