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Protest after Kenyan nurse who battled Ebola 'dies of neglect'

Health & Science

When Edith Dorothy told her father in January last year about her plans to travel to Sierra Leone to battle the deadly Ebola, his heart skipped a beat.

Japhet Ong'onda could not comprehend how his daughter would volunteer to go to a country where the deadly disease had wreaked havoc beyond imagination.

"She told me she wanted to be counted among those who fought the disease and won. She said she did not fear contracting it because the disease anyway had to be confronted for the world to be safe," Mr Ong'onda said yesterday.

 Edith Dorothy Ong’onda with her son. She was attached  in a Sierra Leone hospital during the war against Ebola last year. (PHOTO: MERCY KAHENDA/ STANDARD)

Ironically, the courageous nurse is now dead. She died not from Ebola but from the equally deadly meningitis, a disease she contracted while in Sierra Leone.

Sadly, some believe that meningitis wouldn't have taken her life had the Government not neglected her at her hour of need.

"I gave an okay for my daughter to travel. She travelled safely and was healthy when we parted in Nairobi," recalls the father.

Ong'onda says after five months in West Africa, Dorothy began complaining about headaches and fever and was admitted to a hospital in Sierra Leone where she was diagnosed with meningitis.

"Her condition worsened in May the time the other health workers she traveled with came back and she was retained at the hospital after she went into a coma," adds Ong'onda.

The hospital in Sierra Leone, the father said, could not treat the disease but only managed it and the family approached Kenyan Embassy and Dorothy was airlifted to the country in July 20.

"She was received at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where she was admitted to the hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for three weeks," said Ong'ondu.

He explains that doctors at the hospital handled her tirelessly as they wanted to see her heal. "The doctors here handled her very well and always encouraged the family. They appreciated her volunteering to go to West Africa to fight Ebola," said Ong'onda.

What troubled the family, however, was the rising bill which the Ministry of Health said they it would not foot having met the cost of bringing her home from Sierra Leone.

"The bill kept rising and when it hit Sh830,000, the administration started asking the family to offset. We sat down as a family after several reminders to decide what to do as my daughter was not improving," said Ong'onda.

He said when the administration started demanding payment he contacted the Sierre Leone Embassy which sent the family a Sh200,000 cheque. The family further raised Sh150,000 and requested the hospital to release her to another hospital where they could manage the cost. KNH referred her to Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital (RVPGH) in August last year.

"Doctors at KNH were so competent and worked in a professional way but I was bothered by the administration who insisted I clear the bill or they throw my daughter out," claims the father.

At the RVPGH, where Dorothy was a nurse, Ong'onda said doctors were reluctant to treat her as it took them about three weeks before they started administering drugs on her.

"I was forced to refer my daughter to Coptic Hospital on December 24 in Maseno because doctors at RVPGH were reluctant," said Ong'onda.

The mother of one died at Coptic Hospital on January 3.

"It is so devastating that Dorothy had to die for her selflessness. The Government which praised the volunteers abandoned her at her time of need," he said.

Dorothy's mother Regina said the Government betrayed her daughter and family. "Edith was my very close child. She is dead, betrayed by her government," she said while sobbing over phone.

Her sister, Dr Nancy Ong'onda, recalled the last time they spoke with Dorothy while she was still in Sierra Leone. She told her that she was having severe headache and fever.

"My sister was very dedicated at work. Every time, she would call me asking how to handle certain ailments and it took her courage to travel to West Africa," she said.

Dotty Okwata, Dorothy's close friend  told The Standard that the nurse was jovial all the time.

Ms Okwata said she was the last person to communicate with her in May before she went into a coma.

Ong'onda regrets that her daughter did not get enough attention from those she had entrusted her life.

After the 170 volunteers returned home, President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted them at State House where he directed the Ministry of Health to give jobs to any of them who was not permanently employed.

He thanked the medical volunteers for their bravery for being in forefront in tackling Ebola.

RVPGH Medical Superintendent John Murima denied allegations that she was mishandled after she was referred to the facility.

KNH Chief Executive Lily Koross also said that the patient was treated well and that her transfer to Nakuru was agreed upon by both doctors and the family members.

She said Dorothy was transferred to Nakuru because it was her home area, and this would have enabled her easy handling by the family.

"They were based in Nakuru, and it was decided that she is treated at Nakuru Hospital which has good facilities and could handle her condition," she said.

Dorothy will be buried in Evwiranyi village in Luanda, Vihiga County, on Saturday.

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