This morning a contingent of about 175 Belizeans rallied by Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) took off from in front of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), publicly displaying their dissatisfaction with its investigation of the deaths of 13 premature babies. Seven of those deaths are linked to an outbreak of Enterobacter cloacae first reported in February. Organizer of the demonstration and COLA President Giovanni Brackett summarizes the situation.
Giovani Brackett – President COLA:
We staged this protest because first of all somebody must be held accountable. Somebody must be held responsible for this. You can’t have 13 children die in 20 days and nobody held accountable, and show no sign of compassion. We need to hear from the Ministry of Health. We need to hear from the Minister Pablo Marin. He must display some sort of compassion to these people. And why is it that KHMH is burning hundreds of infectious waste in front of the hospital, in the vicinity that is highly populated. Pablo Marin must go.
If they turn a deaf ear to this, it shows that they have no heart. They have a heart of stone, not a heart of flesh. And then they must go if they will not respond adequately to these people. These are grieving parents.
While a wooden baby coffin headed the parade, representing the 13 dead babies, several of their parents were present. Marissa Cruz is one of those mothers who lost her baby girl at the KHMH.
I’m really glad with Miss Schakron, with the COLA, and Mr Menzies, that are behind us here, supporting us, giving us their full support. I really think it’s necessary that they give us support, because most of the people might not be hurt, but with their support it gives us more like a backbone to this whole issue. I think for me to be here today, it does not only make me feel part of myself, but part of all the other families that are here. Because since everybody’s here right now, it makes me feel like they really want to do something about this and bring justice, not only my baby, but everybody else.
The protestors demanded the immediate removal of Minister of Health Pablo Marin. Meanwhile, Steven Panton, who lost a premature son and carried his baby daughter in the parade, told us the support given to him and his family has been overwhelming.
Well, definitely I’m quite satisfied with the support and everything. This is just the beginning. If we need to do anything more then it will get done. A lot of people they’re out there fi help we and support we, so thanks to everybody who support we.
Basically the reaction has been the same from the beginning, because everybody see the situation, and everybody know that what is taking place is wrong. We’ll continue to do what we need to do.
Apart from supporting the grieving parents, many are dissatisfied with the progress of the investigation so far. According to COLA executive member Nedal McLaren, the matter should be the subject of a criminal investigation.
Nedal McLaren – COLA:
This is where intelligence service comes in. We don’t need no complaint with the law enforcement thinks that something’s within their jurisdiction, then they should activate themselves. We don’t need no jurisdiction. If the man knows that something is for the country, and he the Police Commissioner who is responsible does not activate a team to look into public information. Here we have public information. Do an investigation. So to say this is not a criminal issue is appalling, because it is. There had been negligence. Negligence means that they did not do their job appropriately. Because of that somebody died, and somebody should be held responsible. Simple as that.
McLaren believes that the Police Department should be taking a close interest in the case in the interest of national security and should not wait for a formal complaint.
While the grief of those parents who lost babies is briefly assuaged by the tremendous public support they have received, one mother can count her blessings that her child is not among the dead. Carlee Orosco, whose baby daughter Maya Monique is 4 months old now, was the “index case” identified by the hospital, the point at which the Enterobacter cloacae bacterium first manifested itself. Ms. Orosco told PLUS News that days after her baby was born and sent home after a brief stay in the NICU for “observation,” she got a very disturbing phone call.
My baby spent one week with me home, and Dr Bowland call me back and told me that my baby needs come in right away, because my baby has what they call a germ in her blood, which is the infection, and if I don’t come in right away my baby could die on my hands. So I didn’t hesitate. I came in back.
It was one week after they released her. So when I talked to her I asked them why they couldn’t tell me that on the days that she was in the Intensive care. They told me that the blood culture take one week for the results to come back, and it just came. So that means they took that last minute.
But after being put on antibiotics for 7 days, baby Maya rallied and was released without further incident. Ms. Orosco said she wished to support the parents who lost their children to the bacterium by attending today’s protest. Meanwhile, there is work ongoing to bring the families together to seek legal recourse. Activist Yolanda Schakron, making a first public appearance in several months since losing her former partner Alfred Schakron and previously her nephew Chris Galvez to gun violence, told us that that pain is what motivated her to come forward.
This issue has touched me, first of all ’cause I’m a mother. I have seen the pain of those mothers on TV. I believe because these are very poor people, if someone doesn’t stand up and rally around them, and give them the strength. We can’t have this issue go under the rug. We can’t push it under the rug. It can’t blow over like one lee storm out here, to rally support for these parents. I want to start a fund-raising so we can get money to hire a lawyer, [to] see what are the legal aspects we can pursue in this situation.
According to Schakron there are still families coming forward, and five have agreed to date to band together. Schakron, who joins with COLA in this initiative, is asking for other families who have been affected to come forward.