June 19, 2010

Visit to the Human Rights Commission

Yesterday, Friday, June 18, was another busy and stressful day. In the morning, we went to the Regional Delegate for Human Rights to file a denuncia (formal complaint) against the public health care system of Honduras − at least that is who I wanted to file the complaint against. If you have been following Arexy's saga*, I think you'll agree that the entire system is at fault.

If at any point along the way a doctor or nurse had spoken up for this baby in a timely manner and demanded that something be done, the baby might still be alive. Hospital politics, the lack of medicine or blood, incompetence, the hospital worker strike in San Pedro, and the general neglect all played a part. But the attorney mentioned that he would have to file individual complaints against everyone after the investigation.

CONADEH (Comisionado Nacional de Derechos Humanos de Honduras) is the organization headed by Dr. Ramón Custodio, who some of you may be familiar with as he has been very outspoken about international interference in Honduras. I didn't know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. Attorney Juan José Arita, the regional human rights delegate, just couldn't have been more kind. He was polite, interested, and compassionate. He treated Arexy and Kenia (who was witness to much of the activity of the first days and had talked to some of the doctors personally) with complete respect. It was a good and validating experience for all of us.

He was very complementary about my summary of events. He read it aloud (paused and seemed to frown once or twice, possibly at the bad Spanish grammar or poor choice of translated words) and stopped to ask questions every now and then. He said that it was very helpful. He still interviewed Arexy in depth for more than an hour about every step of the 19 days of the life of her child. He listened with patience when Kenia or I interrupted to add some important (we thought) fact that Arexy was forgetting to mention. He typed every word.

He told us that this would be a lengthy process as it will require technical medical investigation − I think meaning that was something that the Human Rights Commission was not equipped with and would need to get outside assistance. It is a scary thought to think that technical assistance will probably come from the very same public health care system doctors.

Abogado Arita was also forthright in telling us that often nothing can be proven in these cases because the "colleagues" cover up for each other, even when they know that one of their colleagues is incompetent or negligent. He said that much will depend upon whether or not the doctors who informed Arexy and Kenia of the botched surgery and negligence will maintain their stories or will backtrack when faced with testifying against a colleague.

He was very interested in the other, similar case that I had been told about and wants to investigate that case also. I promised that I would try to get more information.

I wanted him to know that we weren't going to give up. When he was finished with the interviews, I told him that it was too late to help Arexy and her baby and that it would be much easier and more comfortable for all of us to stay home and do nothing, but that Arexy was here, going through this pain, to try to make sure that something like this does not happen to any other babies. Of course, I only got halfway through that speech before I was choking up and struggling to remember the right words in Spanish. Arexy and Kenia were nodding in agreement and crying, too. He patiently and solemnly listened and said that he understood and would do everything he can.

The electric power went out before he could print the denuncia for Arexy to sign. He will call us to return to sign it later. He had Arexy sign my summary instead so that he could start requesting the medical records.

After we left, I said "That is how human beings should be treated!" Kenia said, "Yeah! Even if you are poor."


* For all of the articles about Arexy's baby's story, see the article category 'Arexy's Story'.

For a summary of the errors made by the public health care system, see 'A tragic ending to the baby story'.
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