WHAT have been the findings of the independent investigative team appointed to probe the deaths of 35-year-old Leciana Mitchell-Sheppard and her baby boy Ajani Merrie, as well as several other instances of maternal/infant deaths at Tobago?
Since November, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) appointed doctor and lawyer Albert Persad to chair an independent investigative team into the deaths of Mitchell-Sheppard, her son Ajani and two other mothers and their babies. This team was given a two-week time frame within which to report. Five months later, we are yet to have answers.
Mitchell-Sheppard, of Zion Hill, Belle Garden, Tobago, died on October 31 during childbirth at the Scarborough General Hospital. The mother, who was diabetic and hypertensive, bled to death after undergoing a hysterectomy some time after giving birth to Ajani by natural childbirth. Ajani was suffocated during the birthing process. The mothers’s husband, Brinsley, called on President Anthony Carmona to set-up a Commission of Inquiry into the Tobago health sector. Such an inquiry would be for the Cabinet of the Central Government to establish, but the Government has deferred to the THA on this issue, noting that it is for the THA to deal with its healthcare issues under the framework which governs the relationship between the two islands. However, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan met with Tobago officials on the issue and pledged additional support if needed.
This week, Brinsley’s attorneys issued a call to the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) to release the report on the matter. According to attorney Martin George, the report has been completed but it remains in the hands of the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA).
“In the present matter, with regards to Brinsley Shepherd who suffered the loss of his wife and daughter, we have been writing the TRHA repeatedly and asking the Secretary of Health (Claudia Groome-Duke) repeatedly for answers into what transpired into the death of Mrs Shepherd and her baby Adjani Shepherd on October 31,” George said. “We are now into March 2015 and the report which the Secretary of Health promised would be made public has not been made public. We have been informed that the report is available however we are being told it has been passed to the TRHA. This is not a report for the TRHA, it is a report for the public and the people of Tobago, so they can see what is transpiring in the health sector in Tobago.”
Still distraught over the deaths, Brinsley Shepherd said everything was in the hands of his lawyer as he awaits this report.
“I need closure and months after I lost my wife and child, I am yet to receive such. I am looking forward to this report just for the sake of closure,” Shepherd said.
The findings of the investigative team must be made public. If the matter is still ongoing, for instance if the report has been sent to a specific medical team within the TRHA for the purpose of responding to any provisional findings, this is still no excuse for the tardiness being shown here. The public must have confidence that the authorities have identified what went wrong and will, thereby, be able to take corrective action. Not only is there a question of transparency and accountability in relation to State-funded institutions, there is also a question of confidence and ease of mind. There is, further, the need to provide the grieving family with closure.
We observe that between January 2013 and October 2014 alone, the TRHA recorded 17 stillbirths and six infant deaths. This, to our mind, is a clear indication that — whatever the findings of the reporting team — something is wrong, whether on the part of authorities, administrators, medical officials or even among the Tobago population where there may be issues of health and lifestyle which have not been addressed and for which interventions may be required. Meanwhile, as the Central Government presses ahead with the construction of new hospitals and renovation of old facilities, will commensurate steps be taken to ensure that all systems, equipment and staff that are needed to man all medical institutions — new and old — are in place? The report into mother and infant deaths at Tobago can provide important lessons for the entire medical system and its findings must be reported to the public as a matter of principle.
Extracted From: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday Newspaper
Thursday, March 26 2015