Rachel Patrick was unaware she had contracted the Zika virus while pregnant with her third child two years ago. Though terrified when she found out, the Gasparillo mother of two other young children was forced to buckle down quickly to give her newborn the love and care she deserves.
Patrick, 30, said from day one it was a struggle to provide the care that Jahmia really needs, in addition to caring for her other children ages 12 and four.
Jahmia needs to use a nebuliser to assist with her breathing as she has a compromised immune system, which makes her susceptible to contracting viruses and diseases. Jahmia also requires vitamins daily as her bones and teeth are not strong enough, and she can only eat pureed food which Patrick prepares daily by hand since she cannot afford a blender.
Patrick, who has been fighting the odds ever since to remain strong, has now found herself in a worse situation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
When COVID-19 hit T&T in mid-March, the long-time daycare operator and single mother was forced to close her doors as the lockdown went into effect.
The biggest challenge was to keep a roof over her children's head, put food on the table and also ensure Jahmia, who was affected by the Zika virus in utero, continued to receive the medical care and attention she needs.
Like other Zika-affected families, Patrick has felt abandoned by the authorities.
Describing how she and other families whose children were also affected by Zika are continuing to struggle even more now, Patrick said it’s almost as if they have been forgotten by the authorities.
She said, “In the beginning, it wasn’t easy and even more so now during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In an interview on Thursday, she said, “It has been a strain as there is no income coming in. I applied for the social relief grant in the first week it was advertised but I still haven’t gotten anything yet. The only help I have received to date has been from close friends and the Zika Foundation.”
Patrick said the $1,500 public assistance grant she receives was only enough to cover the cost of milk, pampers and wipes for Jahmia. Patrick said Jahmia’s medications and food are normally absorbed into her household budget but with no money coming in, she has to rely on the goodwill of others to get through.
Jahmia has also missed several clinic appointments between March due to the lockdown, Patrick said. “I was afraid to go out with her because she has a breathing problem and she’s already a high-risk patient and would be more susceptible to contracting anything out there.” Patrick said the cost of transportation was also a worrying factor. “To go alone is already around $100 and then I have to consider the returning fare.”
Appealing for some consideration for families like herself who have Zika-affected children, Patrick said, “They could have at least put something in place for us to help with groceries and medications, nothing was done and it is really really hard for us now.”
Indicating Jahmia needed therapy weekly, Patrick said she has been receiving 15-minute sessions once every three months through the Ministry of Health. She praised the Zika Foundation of T&T for saving Jahmia and others as they provide a free hour-long weekly therapy session for these children. Patrick said during the COVID-19 pandemic they also stepped up to assist in other areas.
“Without them, I would have been in a really bad place and state of mind, it wouldn’t have been good,” she said. “They have been a godsend to all of us. They have saved many of us and they are a blessing to my daughter and I.”
Looking ahead for the next three months, Patrick said she was uncertain how the family will fare as they cannot continue to depend on the help from loved ones.
However, she is optimistic that with God’s grace and hopefully, help from the relevant ministries, they will get through it.
“There are families who have it worse than me and they too would need help. To the ministers, please send people out to see what we need, we are here and we need help too. Everybody needs help but nobody is checking with the Zika families to see what kind of support and special help they need.”
Patrick said Zika families need help to secure body braces for their spines, special shoes for their feet, equipment to help develop their motor skills, food cards for parents unable to work and trained caretakers to assist those who are employed.
Patrick also appealed for help with groceries, medications and clothes.
Zika Foundation Appeals For Help To Continue Their Work
The head of the Zika Foundation of T&T, Dr Karen Sohan said while they are determined to continue helping affected families, they need the support of Good Samaritans to increase their efforts.
She said, “The Zika-affected children are now three years old and as you can imagine, this has been a very trying time for them. "During the coronavirus pandemic, many of us who were at home full time was able to appreciate the demands in taking care and nurturing our healthy children. Just for a moment, try and imagine the challenges in taking care of a three year old who is unable to walk, talk and, in some cases, see or hear.”
She said while it was heart-warming to see the responses from religious organisations and the private sector in supporting the State's efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, “This was not the case for the Zika-affected families who at times have felt abandoned and alone.”
Sohan said, “There were more families affected by the Zika virus than families who lost loved ones in Trinidad and Tobago to COVID-19. While it would be inappropriate to compare the two, I cannot help but note the disparity in the responses to each of these national health emergencies.
“For Zika-affected families, their struggle began before the coronavirus pandemic and was only exaggerated by the extreme conditions.
“Just as we wish to provide the best for our healthy children, it is the same for these families except that their focus is not the best secondary schools or university or a birthday party with friends. In most cases, it is basic necessities such as a simple pureed meal, formula, pampers or anti-seizure medications.”
Sohan was unable to say how many Zika-affected children there are in T&T.
People willing to help can contact the Zika Foundation at zikafoundationtt.com