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Cancer patient George Haidar, 14, at the San Fernando General Hospital.

A Venezuelan migrant father is appealing for help from Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh to save his sick son. The man is appealing to Deyalsingh on humanitarian grounds and as a father to show compassion for his child to receive life-saving chemotherapy treatment at the country’s health facilities since non-nationals are only provided with primary health care.

The 14-year-old from Central was taken by his father to a medical care facility in San Fernando earlier this month when he developed a swelling in his neck and groin area.

He was diagnosed with classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma, nodular sclerosis subtype and for him to receive six or ten chemotherapy sessions and surgery to save his life at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex.

When his father took him to the medical facility in Mt Hope, on presenting the doctors with his son’s paperwork, they said they cannot do anything for him.

The doctors were alleged to have said that the Government had their hands tied and they couldn’t attend to him because he was a migrant and non-national.

At the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s media conference on COVID-19 in Tobago, on Saturday Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh was asked if he can do anything to assist the minor. He, however, said Cabinet had instructed him in early 2019 to evaluate the health care system and the use of the free health care system by non-nationals.

Deyalsingh said the ministry went out and did a study of what Trinidadians and Tobagonians were subjected to abroad to access free health care and also in the Caribbean region.

He said based on the analysis, a Cabinet note was passed in June 2019 allowing non-nationals like immigrants free access to certain levels of care like Accident & Emergency which was free of charge and also maternity services. Deyaslsingh said they will not be able to offer any other type of service free of charge.

Speaking to Guardian Media the father said “He has not been given the treatment because he’s a migrant from Venezuela.

“We are asking the T&T Government for intervention, to help our 14-year-old, who wants to live and needs help. It’s not his fault he’s ill.

“If someone knows anyone that can help us get access to someone in the know to help our son. As a father, I will appreciate your help.”

The father has now set up a GoFundMe account called Ayuda para Georges to raise $100,000.

Ministry’s national policy

In a media release on June 21, 2019, the Ministry of Health outlined its national policy for treating with non-nationals with respect to the provision of public health care services.

The health care services which will be afforded to all non-nationals:

a; emergency medical services including initial treatment, stabilisation and discharge for acute medical conditions such as accidents, injuries, asthma, heart attacks, stroke, diabetic coma; and relevant diagnostics for acute care (using the Canadian Triage & Acuity Scale (CTAS) I-V which is currently the standard assessment tool used in all public health Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments)

b; all population and public health services including immunization and treatment of communicable diseases, such as HIV/Aids and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and other high-risk infectious diseases (such as malaria). The population is also reminded that, based on long-established policy, persons who have been to Central or South America are excluded from donating blood for six months, due to the circulation of certain endemic diseases within these territories (such as malaria, Chagas Disease). The Ministry of Health reaffirms its commitment to safeguarding the health of the population and the provision of the best possible service to the citizens of T&T.

Varma Deyalsingh: It’s life-threatening for a child without treatment

Commenting on this situation, Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh said he was aware of the ministry’s policy guidelines for dealing with non-nationals however, it could be life-threatening if the child does not receive treatment.

Deyalsingh who was involved in a joint health outreach venture with the Civil Affairs Team of the US Embassy held on September 2019, in Debe, aimed at targeting migrants said “These migrants ran to our country to be rescued from the conditions they face, though the State may not be able to afford to treat each and every migrant who comes to our shores, there is the humanitarian aspect of assisting ill children and more so T&T has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).

“Article 24 clearly establishes a fundamental right for every child to access services and facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health, an obligation on countries to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to health care services, irrespective of nationality, residence or legal status.”