Sangeeta’s body to be exhumed

The body of Sangeeta Persaud, the Canal Number Two teen, who died following an ‘exorcism’ last month, will be exhumed and examined by an independent pathologist.

Sangeeta Persaud

Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee revealed this yesterday and cited the administration’s concern about the controversy that erupted following the 14-year-old’s death. Addressing the matter at a press conference at the ministry yesterday, he pointed out that the matter attracted national attention and concerns were raised by relatives and residents. Petitions have been written expressing dissatisfaction from different angles, Rohee said.

“It has been decided that we will exhume the body shortly,” he told reporters. He said government was concerned about the controversy that developed and decided upon the exhumation and independent autopsy. A forensic pathologist from a Caribbean Community (Caricom) state, which he refused to identify, has been invited to do the examination, Rohee said. According to the minister, the administration did not want to enter the controversy at its height when emotions were running high. Sometimes it is best to allow the dust to settle before taking action, he said. “We have been following the matter from day one,” he asserted. He said the matter was discussed at Cabinet.

He told reporters that on Wednesday night, he met parents and relatives of Persaud at Canal Number Two and at Parfait Harmonie. He said the meetings were considered necessary as a prelude to the exhumation. Rohee said he has seen a preliminary report from ‘D’ Division police regarding the first autopsy which gave the cause of Persaud’s death as undetermined and noted that samples were taken and forwarded to the forensic laboratory for analysis. It has been reported that Persaud died from meningitis and while Rohee said he has not seen that official report; he has no reason to disbelieve the reports in the press.

Meningitis, according to kidshealth.com is an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It is usually caused by bacteria or viruses, but it can also be caused by certain medications or illnesses. Bacterial meningitis is rare, but is usually serious and can be life-threatening if it’s not treated right away. Viral meningitis (also called aseptic meningitis) is relatively common and far less serious. It often remains undiagnosed because its symptoms can be similar to those of the common flu.

The symptoms of meningitis vary and depend both on the age of the child and on the cause of the infection. Because the flu-like symptoms can be similar in both types of meningitis, particularly in the early stages, and bacterial meningitis can be very serious, it’s important to quickly diagnose an infection. The first symptoms of bacterial or viral meningitis can come on quickly or surface several days after a child has had a cold and runny nose, diarrhoea and vomiting, or other signs of an infection. Common symptoms include: fever, lethargy (decreased consciousness), irritability, headache, photophobia (eye sensitivity to light), stiff neck, skin rashes and seizures.

Because bacterial meningitis can be so serious, if you suspect that your child has any form of meningitis, it’s important to see the doctor right away, the website says. If bacterial meningitis is diagnosed — or even suspected — doctors will start intravenous (IV) antibiotics as soon as possible. Complications of bacterial meningitis can require additional treatment. The complications of bacterial meningitis can be severe and include neurological problems such as hearing loss, visual impairment, seizures, and learning disabilities. The heart, kidneys, and adrenal glands also may be affected. Although some kids develop long-lasting neurological problems, most who receive prompt diagnosis and treatment recover fully.

Rohee said that Persaud’s mother and other relatives have expressed support for the exhumation. The pathologist is expected in the country within the next few days. A second examination is important, Rohee said, adding that the government hopes it will bring closure to the controversy. From a scientific and medical perspective, the minister feels that it will satisfy a wide section of the population.

Hindu organisations in the country had earlier this week called for a thorough investigation into the death of Persaud, saying it is a matter of great urgency because of a certain allegation which has been raised. Asked whether the decision to exhume was a result of the pressure, Rohee said that long before those voices were raised, the matter was discussed at Cabinet and all factors were considered. It is his view that his visit to the communities did not exacerbate the problem and the people were happy that he went.

He would not comment on reports that last Sunday the church where the ‘exorcism’ was done was surrounded and the wheels removed from the pastor’s car. He said that there was no concerted attempt by those he spoke with to emphasize this issue. He stressed that he did not go to the community as an investigator. “I went in there as a messenger with a message.”

He said that a second examination is not an indictment of the state’s forensic pathologist as a second opinion is always useful.

He said the matter was discussed with the Minister of Health who is very much aware of the issue. Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy recently announced an investigation into Persaud’s death. Although he acknowledged that all the relevant facts are not yet known, Ramsammy said he was certain that the child was in need of urgent medical care and not taking her to the hospital immediately after she took ill was a “huge mistake.” The minister, at the time, would not elaborate on the nature of the probe and what it intended to unearth but said the case was being monitored.

Chaitranie Ramotar, the girl’s grandmother, has maintained that the girl was subjected to a physical ritual, which included prodding, squeezing and palming, on March 28, hours before she died in hospital.

Pastor Ewart Cummings and Pastor Gulab have denied there was any beating during the ‘exorcism,’ which they have described as being prayers. The girl’s mother, who was also present at the ceremony, has also denied any physical treatment.

Rohee, yesterday, emphasized that the action being taken is not a “knee-jerk” reaction as it was initiated some time ago.

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