Is medical malpractice to blame for SA’s shocking cerebral palsy statistics?

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20 Jul 2020

Medical malpractice may be a significant factor in South Africa’s shocking cerebral palsy statistics.

Very high incidence of cerebral palsy in South Africa

According to a report on children with disabilities by the Uhambo Foundation, South Africa has an abnormally high prevalence of cerebral palsy among children – with as many as 10 cases per 1,000 births.

The same figure (10 per 1,000) was reported in a 2017 study in KwaZulu-Natal.

Compare this to the global average, which is 2.1 per 1,000 births.

The Uhambo Foundation report notes that “birth-related trauma is one of the primary causes.”

Causes of cerebral palsy

A number of factors can cause cerebral palsy in children.

These range from infections (during or after pregnancy) to premature birth, trauma during the birth process and failure to treat serious jaundice.

Sometimes, the cause is unknown.

Cerebral palsy and medical malpractice statistics in SA

In South Africa, there’s a lack of recent, publicly available statistics about cerebral palsy cases in infants and their causes.

However, the statistics we do have are alarming.

They suggest that medical malpractice may be factor number 1 when it comes to cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy claims against state hospitals

In 2018, Gauteng hospitals alone reported 1,148 serious adverse events involving hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. This is brain damage that occurs when an infant is deprived of oxygen.

Often, it takes the form of cerebral palsy.

In this context, serious adverse events are untoward medical practices, resulting in significant harm to patients.

According to a study by the Free Market Foundation, upwards of 43% of all claims against South African state hospitals are for birth-related injuries – especially cerebral palsy.

In 2016, R769 million was paid out for cerebral palsy claims involving medical negligence.

The most cases were registered at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

Multiple reports suggest inadequate training of nurses and a lack of resources in state hospitals as key causes of cerebral palsy in infants.

Concern expressed by South African specialists

As early as 2013, leading obstetrician and professor at Stellenbosch University, Professor Hein Odendaal, noted that a significant number of newborns suffer avoidable brain damage.

For example, births are dragged out for too long, mothers’ uteri are overstimulated using a drug like oxytocin or foetal distress isn’t recognised in time.

According to one paediatrics professor, avoidable birth complications are responsible for as many as half of all cases of cerebral palsy in South African children.

Significant payouts for cerebral palsy claims

In 2008, delays in delivering a baby resulted in cerebral palsy. This led to a malpractice claim.

Ten years later, in 2018, the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the gynaecologist and the Kwazulu-Natal hospital where the delivery occurred to pay the claimant R20 million.

In another case, malpractice Shongwe Hospital in Mpumalanga resulted in cerebral palsy in an infant. The courts awarded a payout of R7.4 million.

Making a medical malpractice claim

Any medical malpractice claim is complex. It involves specialised legal principles and procedures, and may take years to resolve.

If you have a malpractice claim involving cerebral palsy, it’s vital to use the services of a suitably experienced attorney.

For the claim to succeed, there must be sufficient evidence that medical malpractice was the direct cause of cerebral palsy.

Examples of evidence are statements from witnesses, medical records and testimony from medical experts.

Contact personal injury law specialists

At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in personal injury claims. Our attorneys have extensive experience in handling medical malpractice claims, including claims involving cerebral palsy in infants.

We can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve.

Contact us for the very best legal support and representation. Note that we work on a no win, no fee basis.

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(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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