Across South Africa, medical errors resulting in brain damage in newborns are disturbingly common.
It has been estimated that as many as 50% of children with cerebral palsy in our country have the condition because of avoidable factors.
Referring to the serious adverse events taking place at Gauteng hospitals, DA MPL Jack Bloom stated that “…a major failing is in maternity wards, which is why there are so many brain-damaged babies”.
Perinatal death statistics in South Africa
According to a report on perinatal mortality in South Africa, intra-partum asphyxia, or deprivation of oxygen, accounts for 66.3% of all deaths in “term babies that were still alive intra-uterine on admission to the labour ward”.
Of these deaths, “72% occurred in mothers with no obstetric condition” and “53.4% of avoidable factors were medical-personnel related”.
The statistics are as serious with babies who were born alive but later died. In 64.9% of cases, hypoxia is the main cause of death.
Birth-related trauma has been linked to the country’s unusually high prevalence of cerebral palsy among children. South Africa’s incidence rate of 10 cases per 1,000 births is almost five times greater than the global average.
A study conducted by The Free Market Foundation found that cerebral palsy, and other birth-related injuries, account for 43.5% of all malpractice claims against state hospitals in South Africa.
Examples of South African cases: newborn brain damage due to medical negligence
In 2004, the mother of a child delivered in a local clinic sued for damages arising from medical negligence.
Nursing staff failed to monitor the mother and foetus, did not detect foetal distress and used a high-risk intervention to deliver the child.
As a result, the child suffered a hypoxic ischemic injury at birth, and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
The court found the defendant liable for all damages, plus the defendant’s costs.
Due to a delayed and incorrect mode of delivery, infant Hlongwane sustained hypoxic ischemic injury resulting in brain damage. As a result of the injury, the child was severely mentally and physically disabled.
A total of R23 million in damages was claimed on behalf of the plaintiff, of which R1,529,766.51 was ordered as an interim payment. The case was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2010, negligence by medical and hospital personnel during the birthing process resulted in serious brain injury to infant Amile Madela.
The child was left severely physically and mentally impaired, had difficulty eating, and, at 14 months of age, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
The court ordered the defendant to pay a total of R6,548,998 in damages – R1.6 million for general damages and R4,948,998 for loss of earnings.
Most common causes of brain damage in infants
These are the most common causes of brain damage in newborns.
Hypoxia, when the brain doesn’t get sufficient oxygen before, during and after birth.
Bacterial and viral infections, such as meningitis, impair foetal brain development.
Physical injury, resulting from vacuum delivery or the use of forceps with excessive force, cause severe injury to the infant’s head and brain.
Stroke, due to low oxygen levels in the infant’s blood or lack of optimal blood flow.
Avoidable brain damage in newborns: causes that constitute negligence
With the best medical care, not all instances of brain damage can be avoided. However, in a significant proportion of cases medical negligence may be directly to blame.
Key causes of avoidable brain damage in infants are:
- inadequate foetal monitoring
- substandard care related to resuscitation
- misuse of forceps during delivery
- failure to manage a breech birth
- undetected umbilical cord prolapse
- delays in inducing labour
- failure to deliver by Caesarean section
- undetected foetal distress.
What to do if you have a claim
If you believe medical malpractice is the cause of brain damage to your newborn, you may have a legitimate claim for damages.
These cases are medically and legally complex. To get the payout you deserve, contact an attorney who is experienced and skilled in medical negligence claims.
How DSC Attorneys can help
Brain damage in newborns is far too common. If you think you have experienced medical malpractice in South Africa, we can help.
At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in medical malpractice claims. Our personal injury attorneys and medico-legal team 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.