Baby sues over lack of HIV treatment

by Kerry Cullinan

A six-month-old baby who contracted HIV from her mother is suing Mpumalanga's MEC for Health, Sibongile Manana, for R700 000.

Baby Tinashe (surname withheld), born on April 3, is claiming damages from the MEC on the basis that Manana and the provincial health employees attending to Tinashe's mother were negligent.

At no stage did any of the health professionals attending to Tinashe's mother during her pregnancy take any steps to establish her HIV status, or inform her about what she could do to prevent her baby from contracting HIV, attorney Richard Spoor said yesterday.

Spoor said the MEC was liable both as the employer of these health workers and because she had failed to take any steps to ensure that the medication required to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child was available at the Rob Ferreira Hospital.

A single tablet of the anti-AIDS drug Nevirapine given to an HIV-positive woman in labour and 0,6ml of Nevirapine syrup given to her baby within 72 hours of birth can reduce the HIV transmission rate by up to 50%.

I cannot begin to describe the anguish, the guilt, the anger and the sense of betrayal I feel at the failure of the health authorities to give me the advice and help I needed to prevent Tinashe from becoming HIV-positive, said Tinashe's mother, Sibongile, yesterday.

Sibongile (19), who asked not to be identified as she lived in a community of great intolerance, said her mother had told a doctor at Rob Ferreira Hospital that she was HIV-positive. He said that nothing could be done for the baby.

It appears to be the deliberate policy of the health authorities to deny HIV-positive mothers the help and advice that they need, said Sibongile.

To support this claim, she pointed to the fact that Manana had: delayed setting up a pilot project to provide the anti-AIDS drug Nevirapine to HIV-positive mothers; ejected the Greater Nelspruit Rape Intervention Project from the Rob Ferreira and Temba hospitals because they were giving antiretroviral drugs to rape survivors; and, forbidden doctors and nurses in state hospitals from counselling pregnant women and rape survivors on steps to be taken to prevent HIV infection.

I am most angered by the health professionals who put their loyalty to their employer above their professional duty to help and care for the people who come to them for medical advice and treatment. 

By failing to help and advise us properly, they condemn us and our children to suffer a dreadful disease.

Attorney Anita Kleinsmidt, from Wits University's AIDS Law Project, said that if Tinashe's claim succeeded, it would set a precedent for a massive class-action case from women to whom the state had denied antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV transmission to their babies.

Manana's office failed to respond to requests for comment.

Source: The Star, 19 October 2001