Verdade (Maputo)

12 March 2014

Mozambique: An Irresponsible State

Hélio Diamantino, 33 years old, was a young man who cherished life and, despite the difficulties, he always could count on the love of his family. This was until the day he was stricken by an illness while completing compulsory military service between 2001 and 2002. At present, he is a young man whose future is passing him by. He has lost most of his motor skills and represents a concern for his mother who can no longer afford the costs of an illness which was caused by the State.

In 2011, @Verdade published a story about Hélio, but the State remained deaf and mute concerning the case. At the age of 18, Hélio Diamantino enrolled in the armed forces in order fulfill his patriotic duty and in no way did he think that this decision would spoil his future. "I was in 11th grade and I dreamed of continuing with my studies, but I could not ignore my duties as a citizen of this country."

A year later, in 2000, Hélio was summoned by the Centre for Recruitment, Mobilization and Propaganda in Maputo for a medical inspection. He passed the medical exam and was added to a group of fellow new recruits on March 1, 2001. Howvever, during bootcamp at the Special Forces Training Centre in Nampula he fell ill.

Just when he was getting used to military life, he was forced to interrupt his training to take care of his health. "At that time, getting weaker by the day, I left the military unit to be treated in Maputo because I had difficulties balancing myself when walking, I was unable to run and my movements were shaky. I presented myself at the Southern Region Command Centre, where I was held from September 21, 2002 until December 3 of the same year. I was released upon presentation of evidence of treatment."

Instead of being referred to the Special Forces Battalion of Beira, the young man was made a clerk in the southern region's military confinement house. However, "the reason for my appointment in that unit was overlooked." On May 13, 2003, he went into reserve, 74 days after his bootcamp colleagues returned to civilian status, and in violation of the compulsory military service law.

Hélio Diamantino was demobilized and he was not healthy. On October 14, 2005 he was admitted to the Central Hospital of Maputo (HCM). After 18 days he was discharged.

However, a relapse in October 2006 led him, once again, to the same hospital, where he was diagnosed with Spinocerebellar Ataxia. Spinocerebellar Ataxia is a degenerative disease located in the spinal cord, brainstem and cerebellum, causing gradual degeneration. This impedes electrical impulses from reaching the cerebral cortex from the peripheral nervous system and eventually results in the complete inhibition of the body's limbs.

Because of the disease, Helio began having major difficulties in performing everyday activities. Still, "I managed to finish secondary school in 2009". The medical report, requested on December 9, 2008 and made available in February 2010, was clear: "Hélio Diamantino Naene Guiongue (...). was observed in Neurology in 2008.

The exam registered Spinocerebellar Ataxia, decreased vision and muscle strength in the left limbs and horizontal nystagmus, more on the left side of the face." Therefore he was deemed "not fit for work in the public sector". However, he was okayed "to do sedentary work on a special schedule". The hospital document continues further: "the disease that he suffers is the corollary of the profound physical effort to which he had undergone during his training."

Delayed responses of State institutions

With the medical report from February 18, 2009, Hélio Diamantino presented his case to the Minister of National Defence (MDN), and in which he requested to be integrated as an employee in order to "repair his violated rights (...) as throughout this process there exists an objective State responsibility." The answer came one year and four months later, through the Minister's Chief of Staff.

"On the subject, his Excellency the Minister of national defence, in dispatch 6/21/10, dismissed the application, arguing that the hiring of employees for the State apparatus is made on the basis of the provisions of the staff regulations of officials of the State and physical fitness is an essential requirement. And in this sense, the medical report was clear, unequivocal and adamant in saying that you are not suitable to work in the public sector."

A clear violation of the law

In fact, the decision of the MDN "jostled" the article 37 of Law 32/2009 of 25th November, which deals with issues related to accidents or illnesses resulting from military service. The first clause of that article states that "the State recognizes citizens' right to full compensation for effects of accidents or illnesses resulting from normal effective service."

"The citizen referred to in the preceding paragraph, when possessor of any degree of incapacity resulting from accident or disease related to military service, benefits from the rights and privileges provided in legislation itself (...)", is subsequently written in the second clause of Article 37.

Hélio Diamantino returned home from military service 74 days past the time allotted for military enstatement. With just a secondary school education his employment opportunities have been limited, but he has not wavered. He completed a course in assembling and repairing computers, but even in this capacity the fragile foundations of his body, which are continually weakened by Spinocerebellar Ataxia, are a metaphor of his possibilities to achieve work placement.

After months of looking up and down looking for a job, April 2011 brought him good news. The Nitoroiense Association of the Physically Handicapped (ANDEF) of Brazil granted 15 18-month scholarships and Helio was named as one of the beneficiaries. But as the conventional wisdom says "joy is short lived in a poor man's house". Helio and the other 14 beneficiaries lost the possibility of improving their education because there was no money to purchase travel tickets. Thus, in an inglorious manner largely due to the indifference of both public and private entities, the dream of these 15 young adults to special training was terminated.

An illness without a cure

A HCM neurologist who is linked to the case explained that Hélio Diamantino's disease is not curable and the treatment is very expensive. For example, "an MRI costs more than 60 thousand meticais" and is an amount that Helio does not know where to get. However, the doctor felt that the tests conducted during the military health inspection would not have be able to detect the condition.

Therefore, he "rules out the possibility of medical malpractice". But the doctor clarifies that "the problem, which had been abeyant for more 15 years, was precipitated by the rigor of military training". This event has has and will forever change the way that Helio lives. For example, "the house where he lives has to be adapted to the limitations that the disease imposes. That, of course, is a part of the cost of treatment and control. Without handrails to facilitate movement, Hélio will never have a normal life."

Lack of justice

The case of Hélio is at the justice headquarters and in the hands of the Office of Legal Aid and Sponsorship (IPAJ). The lawyer who is handling the case informed us that he cannot comment at this stage of the process and stressed that a lawsuit against the State is "very complicated" especially "when it is a State agent assisting a citizen wronged by the same entity." It should be noted that there are several cases where lawsuits have been filed against the State but nothing has happened. And when there is a ruling, the sentence is rarely fulfilled.

Two sick members at home

Carmélia, Helio's mother, stressed that "when my son was in the military he was of good health. The State used him and now no longer cares about him. I am very upset about the situation." While his mother weeped, Hélio admitt ed that "without this lady I'd be dead."

Carmélia is tremendously distressed. In addition to her son's illness, her husband is suffering from prostate cancer and also suffered a stroke. She earns less than 5,000 meticais and has two severely ill people under her responsibility.

"I lose sleep thinking about this whole thing that's happening to me. My son is worse every day and it's more than four years ago that the Central Hospital of Maputo cancels my husband's surgery. In his case, the State also doesn't assume any responsibility. Hélio's medications are expensive and I often buy half of prescription and it's killing me slowly. I'm watching my son die."

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