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Detainee, 3, denied pneumonia treatment, say supporters


The youngest daughter of the Biloela family detained on Christmas Island developed a potentially deadly blood infection because her pneumonia went untreated, supporters say.

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Three-year-old Tharnicaa and her mother Priya Murugappan were evacuated from the island on Monday evening, and the child suffered dangerous temperature spikes on the journey to Perth.

Her mother says the girl was sick for almost two weeks and that medical contractors at the Christmas Island detention centre repeatedly refused to take Tharnicaa to the island’s public hospital.

When the girl was eventually taken, staff decided she was so sick they ordered an evacuation flight to Perth, family supporter Angela Fredericks says.

Doctors at the Perth Children’s Hospital have since diagnosed Tharnicaa with a blood infection resulting from “untreated pneumonia”, she says.

“It looks like they have said she has untreated pneumonia that led to a blood infection.

“They are continuing to run tests, as 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.”

Fredericks says it shows medical arrangements for detainees on Christmas Island are 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 contractor International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) is trusted by the government to provide primary and mental health care services at the Christmas Island detention centre.

IHMS has refused to say when Priya first asked for her daughter to be transferred to hospital, or how many times she asked. It has also refused to say what care it provided to the girl, referring all questions to the home affairs department.

The department said a minor being held on Christmas Island had been receiving treatment consistent with medical advice.

“The Australian Border Force strongly denies any allegations of mistreatment of individuals in its care,” it said in a statement.

“As soon as the ABF was advised by the treating medical practitioners that the minor required medical treatment in Western Australia, the minor was transferred to a hospital in Western Australia.”

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 is under renewed pressure to release the Tamil family from years of immigration detention, and allow them to return to Biloela.

Priya and husband Nades made their home in the town after arriving separately, by boat, from Sir Lanka. Tharnicaa and her sister Kopika, 6, were both born in Australia.

The federal government has vowed to never resettle anyone who arrives illegally by boat, and does not consider the girls to be Australian citizens.

The family has been in detention since 2018, and on Christmas Island since August 2019. Their legal fight to stay in Australia is continuing in the courts.

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally visited the family on the island, off the West Australian coast, earlier this year and says the government must let them live in Biloela.

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

“This is the result of a government decision to keep this family in detention and to keep them away from their home in Biloela. That’s why it really is time for the minister to intervene and allow this family to go home to Biloela.”

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