My heart breaks for Bibi Rafzia Gafoor and her two little girls, Afiena, 5 and Aaliya 3. Bibi made a simple mistake of giving her children senna pods and is probably not experienced enough to know that excess bowel movement leads to dehydration and death, and that she should have rushed them to the hospital earlier. Like any poor mother, she struggled with the choices in front of her: she chose Lomotil, an abused drug in Guyana. Not only did she have to cope with the trauma of the death of her five-year-old, she was placed in police custody while the fate of her youngest child hung in the balance; the child eventually succumbed.
Where on earth would this poor woman have escaped to? Was there an ulterior motive in giving her children a common laxative? How inhumane can our public services be?
I was given senna pods as a child with my siblings. However, with education, I learnt that it is not safe as it interferes with the water and electrolyte balance in the body.
Senna pods are traditionally recommended for severe constipation in small doses. Giving the children half a cup was an overdose. Coupled with that, one of the side effects of Lomotil is nausea and vomiting. This compounded Bibi’s initial mistake, a mistake that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Now on top of her own grief and guilt, her husband is threatening to leave her. He obviously is also very traumatised by the loss of his children over a stupid tradition of giving children senna pods to clean them out, and needs to see it as a genuine error on Bibi’s part.
I hope that all mothers in Guyana will stop this practice of giving their children senna pods and epsom salts. The Ministry of Health should require all public and private clinics and hospitals to caution mothers against this practice, as well as giving their children medicine without a prescription. A hassle free way to cleanse the system is water − which is cheap and abundant.
It is a tragic mistake and Bibi should be allowed to grieve for her girls with the police showing due respect for this.