Toddler’s death haunts family suing health ministry

18 November 2021 | Justice

Windhoek • [email protected]

The father of 3-year-old Shaziriah Jacinta Mweneni du Plessis who died hours after receiving rabies shots at the Katutura State hospital in March 2017, is suing the health ministry for N$850 000.
Matheus Nekwiyu wrote in his witness statement this year that the sudden loss of his toddler daughter - nicknamed Moneni - has left deep scars. “Her death has affected me in a severe way, and haunts me to this day. I know I will never see her with my eyes, I will never touch her, but she will forever be in my heart.”
Moneni was born on 11 November 2013, and died on 23 March 2017.
Nekwiyu also informed the court that in the aftermath of his daughter’s death, his grief almost cost him his job. “I was lucky to have been employed by people who understood the loss I suffered.”
Nekwiyu is suing for N$600 000 for the emotional shock and trauma for the the loss of his daughter, N$200 000 for medical expenses, and N$50 000 for patrimonial damages.
The rabies shots were administered in the wake of Moneni sustaining slight injuries from a dog bite on the day she passed away. Her babysitter that day, a cousin of Nekwiyu, rushed her to hospital for a rabies shot.

Not guilty
The health ministry has denied any wrongdoing or negligence, either by staff or that the girl’s death was a result of the rabies medicine.
In a November 2020 plea, the ministry claimed Du Plessis’ “guardian … was negligent in failing to take steps to protect the minor child from being bitten by a dog”, despite the guardian’s assertion that the dog was free roaming and had bitten the toddler without warning.
The ministry’s legal team argue that she was not taken to hospital “for treatment timeously”.
They further argue that the rabies vaccine was properly stored, safe for human beings, and correctly administered. They also dispute that Du Plessis was still alive when she arrived at the hospital, saying the family should have called an ambulance instead of bringing her themselves after she developed breathing problems.
Nekwiyu, with the help of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), dismissed these claims, noting that Du Plessis was taken to hospital immediately after she was bitten by the dog, and that after she developed breathing difficulties within minutes of arriving back home, they rushed back to the hospital as there was no time to call an ambulance.
The family also claims that before a resuscitation team arrived to help the child, a nurse “kept on saying she was busy and that we had to wait”, before they received assistance.

Difficult
Documentation provided to the court shows a long trail of letters between the LAC and various government agencies, including the forensic lab and police, dating back to 2017, in an effort to obtain the results of an analysis into the batch of rabies vaccines administered to Du Plessis.
Court documents also show the family struggled to obtain documentation at the hospital as well, including her medical card.
According to court documents, the information they requested in 2017, including the reports on the analysis of the rabies medicine, was only delivered to the LAC on 14 May 2019.
Earlier this year, the health ministry’s demand to the court that the civil suit be dismissed as it had been filed too late, was dismissed, with costs, by Judge Boas Usiku.
Usiku noted that a lawsuit could only be filed after the 2019 documentation requested by the LAC was delivered.
At a status hearing on Wednesday, the parties requested the case be postponed to mid-December for administrative reasons.
Bradley Khoa of the LAC is acting on behalf of Matheus Nekwiyu, and Janseline Gawises on behalf of government.

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