Kenyan thalidomide baby refused visa for treatment

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The Independent Online

From the moment he came into the world, Freddie M'Tile has battled against the odds to survive.

Born in Kenya with no arms or legs after his mother took thalidomide during her pregnancy, Freddie was abandoned by his family and rejected by the local community.

He was saved by a British nurse living in Kenya who wants to bring the 14-month-old boy to the UK for vital medical treatment.

But Home Office officials have refused Freddie a visa for the trip, sayingthey do not believe that the boy has a "genuine" case.

The decision has provoked outrage among thalidomide campaigners and despair in Dee Knott-M'Tile, the British nurse who is caring for Freddie in Kenya. She has now travelled to Britain to lobby for a visa for the child who she fears could die unless he has treatment. "I just feel very, very angry and frustrated about this whole situation and I can hardly believe it is happening," she said.

"Freddie already faces a lifetime of disability, but I am determined to do everything I can to help him."

Freddie was born in the Kenyan bush near the village of Kibokni on 6 May last year, with only local women in attendance. He had no arms or legs, which is believed to be linked to the fact his mother took thalidomide during her pregnancy. The drug has been withdrawn from sale in the West but in Africa it is still used to treat leprosy.

Mrs Knott M'Tile said: "Freddie's mother says she took something during pregnancy but she didn't know what it was. We are pretty sure it was thalidomide because we know it is used in Kenya and Freddie's level of disability is so high."

In the community in which he was born, disability is seen as a sign of evil, and the local women claimed Freddie was "witched" or cursed. His mother and father decided to kill him, but the day after he was born he was saved by his grandfather, who took him to the nearest hospital and asked them to admit him to protect him from his parents.

A local hospital official telephoned Mrs Knott-M'Tile, who runs a hospital, clinic and orphanage for abandoned children in the same town. She said: "I got this phone call saying there was a little boy with no arms or legs and no one to look after him. Without even having seen Freddie, I said that I would take him in.

"When I went to the hospital and saw him for the first time, for a split second I asked myself whether I could do this, but then I walked towards him and decided I would do everything I could to help him."

Mrs Knott-M'Tile, 55, trained and worked as a nurse in Newcastle but went to Kenya on holiday in 1993 and fell in love with the country. In 1995, she settled in Kenya permanently and married her husband, Sammy.

When Mrs Knott-M'Tile contacted the action group Thalidomide UK, she was advised that Freddie could also have internal damage and without treatment, could die. The group's director, Freddie Astbury, offered to pay for the baby's medical assessment and treatment in the UK, and Mrs Knott-M'Tile had the money to pay for his travel.

But they were shocked when their application for a visa for Freddie was turned down. Mrs Knott-M'Tile said: "The letter said that the officials were concerned that Freddie would not come back to Kenya after his treatment and that it was not a genuine case.

"I just couldn't believe it. My home is in Kenya. My husband is Kenyan, I have children in Kenya who I am legal guardian to. Freddie is Kenyan and I would never take him away from his home. I just want him to have treatment."

The Home Office said it could not comment on individual cases.