x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Father seeks answers to children's deaths

The father of two children who died of suspected food poisoning has lost faith in Dubai's health services.

The D'Souza family, parents Christopher and Ana Sophia with children Nathan and Chelsea in 2007.
The D'Souza family, parents Christopher and Ana Sophia with children Nathan and Chelsea in 2007.

DUBAI // Other people who ate at a Dubai restaurant that served two children who died of suspected food poisoning have not become ill, civic officials said yesterday, raising questions about whether something else may have caused their deaths. Nathan D'Souza, five, and his sister Chelsea, eight, died at the weekend after the family was hospitalised with severe vomiting and nausea. However, the father, Patrick D'Souza, insisted today that his children died from food poisoning. "I think this tragedy has more to do with the hospitals. Of course, the restaurant food affected my children but food poisoning can be treated. My wife took the children to the hospital immediately. "Being children, the hospitals and the doctors need to understand what level of poisoning can affect the children," he said.

The children, their French mother and their housemaid ordered a takeaway meal from the restaurant in Al Qusais on Friday night before falling ill. The mother and housemaid have recovered. The municipality shut down the restaurant as a precautionary measure, and it is expected to remain closed until the causes of the deaths are confirmed through laboratory tests. Dubai Municipality was cautious not to pin the blame on food poisoning before the test results were returned. Sources said the family maintained that the housemaid never consumed the food from the restaurant.

"We received the parents and offered to help them in every possible way. We are saddened by this incident and are keen to follow the investigations. We want to see why this happened," said Ms Nada Yafi, the French consul general in Dubai. Dubai Police yesterday said the owner of the restaurant and several staff members have been questioned. Civic officers collected samples of the food from the family and the restaurant, as well as other samples from the residence.

The family ordered fried rice, noodles, fish and chicken dishes, officials said. "Dubai Municipality is waiting for the laboratory tests, after [which] the course of action would be decided," said a spokesman for the municipality. The family members were treated at the New Medical Centre Speciality Hospital, where they given an antibiotic and fluids to help them rehydrate. Later on Friday evening, the mother returned with the children, but the boy died, Dr BR Shetty, the managing director and chief executive of the hospital, said on Sunday.

Chelsea died on Sunday morning after being taken to Dubai Hospital. The children's father, Patrick, an Indian national, was away during the incident. He returned on Saturday after his son's death. Mr D'Souza said that everyone is shocked as to why the children were discharged from NMC hospital. "How could they discharge the children? Also, despite knowing that my son had died, Dubai hospital did nothing much for my daughter except giving her drips. "No attention was given to them. This is not cancer and I know children who have been cured from cancer too. Can we trust doctors in Dubai anymore?" Mr D'Souza said he has been in Dubai for 19 years but is now losing faith in the health facilities here. "Are doctors here equipped to deal with patients?" When questioned if he is planning any action, he said: "I leave it to God and the government of Dubai to take action against the culprits. Nobody deserves this sorrow of losing their young children like this." The parents are now spending their time with close relatives away from their home in Al Qusais. Relatives in India were contacted and obituaries posted in Indian newspapers. Consular officials said that efforts would be made to return the children's bodies to their homeland, in co-ordination with other consulates if necessary.

Dr Tasnim Khan, a specialist in family medicine at the City Hospital in Dubai, said it was important for investigators to identify the exact source of the bacteria or virus that caused the illness. "There are multiple organisms that can cause food poisoning; most of them are benign and self-limited, so people get over them quickly," she said. "Others are more severe and can cause sudden death. "These deaths are devastating and I think when they are that severe, it has to be one of the foodborne organisms which are rapidly progressive."

Dr Khan added that although a thorough investigation was key, there was no cause for public concern. "Children can become very dehydrated very quickly," Dr Khan said. "These children appeared to be healthy without any pre-existing conditions. There is no need to panic, but people should be vigilant about preparing food and the places they are eating." Children and elderly people are often more affected by food poisoning, experts say.

Three children have died of what appeared to be food poisoning in the UAE in the past two weeks. On May 30, Marwa Faisal, four, died in Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah after suffering from violent vomiting.

pmenon@thenational.ae munderwood@thenational.ae