Friends outraged over treatment of Biloela toddler

Friends of the Biloela family detained on Christmas Island say they are worried authorities took too long to offer the youngest daughter appropriate medical care.

Three-year-old Tharnicaa remains in hospital on Tuesday after being medically evacuated from the island with a potentially deadly blood infection.

Family supporter Angela Fredericks said the young girl’s condition had escalated because of untreated pneumonia.

“My blood was absolutely boiling just listening to the family’s treatment by the staff at the detention facility,” Ms Fredericks told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday.

“The medical officers that are purely there to look after this family at that detention facility, failed in their responsibilities.

“Any other parent would have had their child up at a hospital and that’s exactly what these parents wanted to do and they were stopped from doing that.

“On the weekend, she’d been asking for her to be taken to the hospital and she kept getting told no, she’s not bad enough, she’ll be fine.

“But a mother knows and they’d been taking her temperature, it wasn’t going down and it wasn’t until Tharnicaa was literally falling over that they finally got her to the hospital.”

 

Tharnicaa and her mother Priya Murugappan were evacuated from the island on Monday night.

The little girl suffered dangerous temperature spikes on the journey to Perth, with her temperature rising as high as 40.7 degrees. Her mother has said she had been sick for almost two weeks.

Ms Murugappan said medical contractors at the Christmas Island immigration detention centre repeatedly refused to take her young daughter to the island’s public hospital.

When she was eventually taken, staff decided she was so sick they ordered the evacuation flight.

Ms Fredericks said doctors at the Perth Children’s Hospital had since diagnosed Tharnicaa with a blood infection resulting from “untreated pneumonia”.

“They are still not able to get her white cell counts where they should be. They are now treating the pneumonia while they look for any other infection sites,” she said.

Ms Fredericks said it showed medical arrangements for detainees on Christmas Island were inadequate and dangerous.

“From my understanding, this would usually show up as a chest infection, which would then get treated. And that would stop it going to pneumonia. If it went to pneumonia, that would then be treated to stop it going into the blood supply.

“We’ve had two delays in treatment here, which has led to this crisis point. Yesterday we were preparing for the worst.”

The federal government contracts International Health and Medical Services to provide primary and mental health care services at the detention centre.

IHMS has refused to say when Ms Murugappan first asked for her daughter to be transferred to hospital, or how many times she asked.

The home affairs department said “treatment consistent with medical advice” was provided and the Perth flight arranged on medical advice.

Earlier on Tuesday another family supporter, Bronwyn Dendle, said the medical contractor had initially dismissed Tharnicaa’s symptoms “as the common cold, despite persistent high temperatures and vomiting and diarrhoea”.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has refused to comment on the family’s predicament, except to say “a range of resettlement options” are under negotiation.

It was unclear what minister meant by “resettlement options”,  as the family had previously settled in the Queensland town of Biloela and the community remain eager to have them return.

Priya and husband Nades lived in Biloela after arriving separately, by boat, as refugees from Sri Lanka. Tharnicaa and her six-year-old sister Kopika were born in Australia.

The family’s removal from the town and subsequent detainment in 2018 sparked backlash in the community. Locals have maintained a strong campaign for their return “home to Bilo”.

The Murugappan’s lawyer Carina Ford told Sky News her clients could potentially resettle in New Zealand instead of Australia, but feels it is not the right time to discuss this with them.

“Even being able to put that to the clients at the minute, given the circumstances of the child in hospital, is going to be difficult,” Ms Ford said.

Ms Ford said it is her view that they should be allowed to settle in Australia.

After Ms Andrews’ statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison added that she was not specifically referring to the Tamil family but “all cohorts, across all possible group”.

He said the Tamil family’s battle to stay in Australia remained before the courts, and the family would provided with “every medical care”, as determined by doctors.

The family has been in detention since 2018 and on Christmas Island since August 2019.

Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally, who visited the family on Christmas Island early in 2021, said the government must let them return to Biloela.

“Imagine you need to deal with armed guards, you can’t get access to the medical care you believe your child needs,” Senator Keneally told ABC television on Tuesday.

“I just cannot imagine why any minister isn’t letting this family come home.”

Advocates for the family have organised a candlelight vigil outside Perth Children’s hospital on Tuesday night.

-with agencies

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