Bahrain Health Ministry faces legal action
Manama, September 27, 2012
Legal action will be taken against the Health Ministry on behalf of sickle cell patients who died in Bahrain since the start of 2008.
It is being put together by the Bahrain Society for Sickle Cell Anaemia Patient Care, which expects families of more than 100 victims to sign up the lawsuit.
Society chairman Zakreya Ebrahim Al Kadhem announced the move yesterday after Bahraini Mohammed Kadhem Hassan became the 33rd sickle cell patient to die this year.
The 56-year-old, from Ma'ameer, died on September 25 at Salmaniya Medical Complex (SMC).
A relative of the deceased, who did not wish to be named, alleged an incorrect diagnosis by SMC staff was responsible for his death.
Meanwhile, Al Kadhem expressed alarm at the high rate of sickle cell deaths this year. "If steps are not taken by the ministry now, the number of deaths could reach more than 40 by the end of this year."
The society last year registered 32 deaths of sickle cell patients, 35 in 2010, 28 in 2009 and 23 in 2008.
"We are under immense pressure from all these families who lost their loved ones since 2008," added Al Kadhem.
"They now want to file a collective case against the ministry. They are holding the ministry responsible for the deaths and for not taking any further steps to stop deaths among patients."
Our sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News, contacted the ministry yesterday for a response, but none was forthcoming.
Al Kadhem revealed some families of deceased sickle cell patients had already signed a document, which states they agree to be part of the legal action.
"In the coming weeks there will be a clear picture about this as more people come out and sign this key document and we shall announce the details.
"We have all the resources and facilities in Bahrain, but these sickle cell deaths have not stopped."
He said the society registered 25 deaths between June and August alone, compared to eight during the same period last year and 10 during the same time in 2010.
SMC genetic department chairwoman Dr Shaikha Salim Al Arayyed, who heads the ministry's committee overseeing the treatment of sickle cell cases, told the GDN earlier this month that sickle cell patients were putting themselves at increased risk by not having regular medical check-ups.
She said patients in Bahrain often lived to be more than 70 years old, while the international average is just 60, and Bahrain had not recorded a fatality in patients aged under five - while in the US, 20 per cent of sickle cell deaths were in that age group.
Dr Al Arrayed argued that Bahrain operated an effective screening system and insisted on examining sickle cell patients regularly, but patients often became complacent as they got older and stopped visiting clinics for follow-up - meaning complications connected to the illness went undetected until it was too late.
Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder in which red blood cells form an abnormal sickle or crescent shape and there is no known cure.
Couples who carry the sickle cell gene can pass it onto their children, who stand a one in four chance of suffering from the disorder. The mutated cells deliver less oxygen to the body's tissues, can get stuck in small blood vessels and break into pieces that can interrupt healthy blood flow.
Most patients at some point experience severe pain lasting from hours to several days.
Authorities have introduced premarital blood screening programmes to make couples aware if they carry the sickle cell gene, which is common in Bahrain due to marriages within families. Side effects can include blindness and low immunity, making patients more susceptible to other ailments.
Dr Al Arrayed revealed the ministry saw between 400 and 500 sickle cell patients daily at its facilities.
However, she acknowledged the lack of an autopsy when sickle cell sufferers died meant the exact cause of death could not be determined, but dismissed allegations that SMC's intensive care unit was lacking beds.
A BD2.5 million ($6.65 million), 90-bed facility to treat all patients with blood diseases is due to be operational at SMC next year. – TradeArabia News Service