Wednesday, 10 August 2016 08:29

NAMIBIA: Parents Sue Over Vaccine Deaths

5 August 2016 – SIX parents whose babies died after they were vaccinated have approached the Legal Assistance Centre for help to sue the health ministry.

The Namibian understands that 21 babies countrywide have died since 2006 after receiving the vaccines which are normally administered to children at six weeks and 12 weeks in what has been termed sudden infant death syndrome.

Five of these cases recorded in July this year in Windhoek alone were caused by complications arising from the ongoing measles/rubella vaccination exercise.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services has not responded to detailed questions sent to the public relations office a week ago.

Similarly, attempts were also made to get hold of minister Bernard Haufiku and permanent secretary Andreas Mwoombola.

The minister's phone was off while Mwoombola did not respond to the text messages sent to him. Acting public relations officer, Manga

Libita, said she would get back to The Namibian, but failed to honour her word.

Dr Theopolina Tueumuna, a veteran Namibian medical doctor with expertise in public health, specialising in maternal and child health, defended the campaigns, saying in Namibia's case, most children are malnourished and when they get the vaccination there is a likelihood that some might die.

Dr Tueumuna said during the major measles outbreak treated at the Oshakati State Hospital from October 1986 through January 1987, out of the 554 children aged three-and-a-half years admitted to the hospital, 83 died from complications of measles, mainly pneumonia.

"None of the 83 deceased children had received measles vaccines beforehand. Of the survivors, six became permanently blind. In addition, virtually all the 554 children who were ill enough to require hospital admission had some degree of malnutrition.

Some of my patients who died from measles were as old as 10 to 12 years," Tueumuna stated.

She compared Namibian children to those she attended to in London, whom she said were well-nourished; lived in good houses; had access to supportive treatment, and plenty of nutritious food.

Project lawyer for the Social Justice Project at the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) Sharen Zenda confirmed that some parents approached their office for assistance.

Zenda could, however, not divulge any further details.

One of the doctors, Yury Vasin, who did post-mortem examinations on some of the children in Windhoek, told The Namibian that the rate at which babies are dying from six and 12-week vaccination-related deaths is unacceptably high.

Dr Vasin of the Windhoek Central Hospital's forensic mortuary services did a post-mortem examination on six-month-old Paulus Jonas, son of Denny Mwanyekange, one of the parents who approached the LAC for help.

Jonas died in his father's arms within four hours of receiving a vaccination in January last year.

Dr Vasin claimed that the babies had identical symptoms before they died soon after being vaccinated.

Although Dr Vasin could not give figures, he said it was a cause for concern for him, and he wrote a letter to the health ministry in 2008 when the trend started picking up.

He requested The Namibian to ask for test results of an investigation conducted by the health ministry, together with the World Health Organisation, into the concerned children's vaccines.

The Namibian understands that after Dr Vasin's post-mortem results were given to the parents, they confronted the health ministry, and were told that the doctor was not qualified to make such a diagnosis.

Dr Vasin, however, denies this.

"I have long experience in this field. The babies had identical symptoms before they all died soon after being vaccinated. We got concerned that this was more than a coincidence, and the numbers were increasing," he stressed.

He also said he was not approached for any input by the ministry on consultations with the concerned parents.

The parents claim that they are not happy with the way the health ministry handled their cases, while the feedback was termed unsatisfactory.

Angelina Lazarus (23) took her son for the second vaccination on 9 April this year. When she returned home in the afternoon, the baby refused to be breastfed, and could not stop crying.

After crying for a long time, she said, the baby eventually drank and went off to sleep.

"At around 16h30, I realised that he was not breathing. His tongue had turned black, and he was bleeding from the nose," she said, adding that they are still trying to cope with the loss.

Her brother, Robert Iithete, who approached the LAC over the issue, said watching his sister suffer in the absence of answers - the police refuse to return the health passport card and the post-mortem results - is killing him slowly.

Mwanyekange, whose son Paulus Jonas was vaccinated at the Okuryangava Clinic in Windhoek, said the boy also refused to be breastfed after the vaccination, and cried hysterically.

The distraught father said he took the boy from the mother to help quiet him down. Mwanyekange also said he thought that everything was fine when the boy stopped crying.

"The mother was in the house preparing food. I was sitting with him outside under a tree. When she took him from me, I just heard her screaming. I saw blood coming out of the baby's nose and mouth," he stated.

Paulus Jonas' post-mortem certificate shows that the infant's death was vaccine-related.

His parents told The Namibian at their home in Okahandja Park, Katutura, that they are finding it difficult to get over the death of their son because of the vague answers they got from the ministry.

"That is why we decided to go to the LAC. We want to know what caused the death of our son. Although the doctor who did the post-mortem said it was vaccine-related, the health ministry told us the doctor was not qualified."

"Why are they hiring unqualified people to determine the cause of death? Then maybe their nurses are also not qualified to administer vaccines. I will sue them to pay for my child," he stressed.

Mwanyekange said he has been finding it difficult to concentrate because of the 'bloody' image the child left in his mind.

"The way he was bleeding was as if it was a cow. I was tempted to commit suicide. I also could not concentrate at work, so they had to let me go," he said.

Victoria Kangala, whose three-month-old baby died after receiving a vaccination at the same clinic, said her baby was not sick.

Kangala said although the death certificate says her son died from aspiration pneumonia, she knows that it's the vaccination that killed him.

"His leg was weak. He was crying. He refused to be breastfed, and his eyes were swollen," Kangala said, adding that she had to take her son to the hospital two days later after he had cried continuously.

Despite this, she said the boy's left side became swollen.

"His weight and temperature did not change. I dream of him. It is not easy," she said.

Linus Festus told The Namibian that he lost his daughter Natasha Soetmelk in December 2014.

A post-mortem report also shows that Natasha died from a vaccination related death.

He said when the child returned after receiving the vaccine at 15h00, her temperature started rising and she was crying uncontrollably.

"Her mother and I went to get something from the shop and we returned and went to bed. At around five the following morning, Bernice (Soetmelk) started screaming.

When I woke up I saw blood coming out of Natasha's eyes and mouth and she had stopped breathing," Festus said.

He said Bernice, who is the baby's mother, cries to this day about the incident and is struggling to get over the death.

"We have approached LAC for help. The health ministry told us the doctor who conducted the post-mortem was not qualified. We want clear answers. Why should this post-mortem be the incorrect one when so many are conducted by the same doctor?" Festus questioned.

Dr Vasin told The Namibian he has done about 8 000 to 9 000 autopsies.

He has been in his position for 15 years and said most cases are coming from Khomas, Omaheke, Kharas, Hardap and Otjozondjupa.

Dr Vasin said the trend was picked up at Oshakati in 2007/8 when numerous cases were recorded and it was becoming alarming because it did not happen before.

"I kept a list which allowed me to see the trend which showed six weeks' vaccination, and whether it was a death on the same day or the day after. One of the clinical features was severe crying. Not much was happening from the ministry. Letters were written and again the trend picked up end of 2014, beginning of 2015, when three cases were recorded and two were from our department and [in] one case the post-mortem was not done," he said.

Dr Vasin said vaccine requires proper assessments of individuals given it as any medical procedure has side effects whether small, mild, severe or adverse, including death.

By Tuyeimo Haidula
Source: The Namibian (

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