Five Health Ministry officials indicted for acts that could have caused the spread of disease in the Remedia baby-formula case will admit to the charge against them. According to a plea bargain presented yesterday to the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court, the five have asked the court not to convict them, and to allow them to do community service in health institutions.
The five, including the head of the national food service, Dr. Dorit Nitzan-Kaluski and four ministry supervisors, were indicted following the death of two infants and injuries incurred by at least 23 others, who were fed a Remedia milk-substitute deficient in vitamin B1 in 2003. The Justice Ministry said the five will also undergo a disciplinary hearing by a Civil Service Commission.
According to the indictment, issued in May 2008, the affected babies were given a non-dairy baby formula which did not contain vitamin B1 as the label indicated. The state charged the five with commiting an act that could have lead to the spread of disease, because they had not verified as required that the label indeed reflected the formula's contents.
Nitzan-Kaluski, a pediatrician specializing in gastroenterology, is also charged with failing to ensure that the supervisors checked the products as required. Nitzan-Kaluski is currently employed by the World Health Organization as a director in public health, food and nutrition for southern European countries, and is living in Belgrade, Serbia. Yesterday she declined to comment for this report.
The Health Ministry officials yesterday told the court they admit to the offense without reservation, and realize that the court is not bound by the plea bargain they signed with the state. Judge Lia Lev-On yesterday said that they should perform at least 500 hours of community service.
Ministry sources close to the affair said: "There was an assumption that the trial could go on for a long time ... Since these were officials in the health care system, there was an interest in ending the trial speedily and efficiently."
The Justice Ministry said: "The confession of the Health Ministry officials expresses their recognition of their responsibility for the mishaps in the ministry for which they were indicted." The ministry added that the indictment "did not at the outset attribute to them responsibility for the severe outcome of the Remedia case."
According to the Justice Ministry, the Health Ministry officials were responsible for "not meeting the standards they were required to meet as public servants, according to regulations determined by the Health Ministry itself."
Also indicted in the Remedia case were three of the firm's executives: Frederick Block, former head of research and development; former Remedia CEO Gideon Landsberger; and former owner Moshe Miller. Among the charges against them are causing death by negligence and causing injury by negligence.
Said Aviva Hayibi of Afula, whose daughter Noa, now seven and a half, has been in a coma since she was fed the B1-deficient formula as a baby: "I wouldn't want to change places with the court and make a decision about a plea bargain, but I hope that the [Health Ministry officials] will have to take care of children who are on a ventilator like my daughter, so they see what damage the non-dairy Remedia did.
"We have a little hospital at home. My daughter is fed through a tube in her stomach. Her caregiver and I are next to her all the time; she can't be alone for a minute. Those to blame should see and understand the implications of this regrettable case," Hayibi added.
The Remedia case broke in November 2003, when two babies died and 23 others were hospitalized with severe damage to their nervous system and heart, after being fed the deficient formula.
Research by Dr. Aviva Fattal-Valevski, a pediatric neurologist at Dana Children's Hospital, has discovered that dozens of other children have suffered developmental delays in language and motor development as a result of the formula. According to the Knesset's Children's Rights Committee, some 600 to 1,000 children where affected by it.
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