New York Times report on a volunteer who died in China

It’s been a tough couple of weeks of news for Peace Corps volunteers. While the death of a volunteer in China is more than a year old, last week The New York Times ran a story on the problematic medical service that a volunteer in China received before his death from gastrointestinal illness:

But the story of his death — pieced together from interviews and confidential reports and documents, including his autopsy — raises serious questions about Peace Corps medical care and how the agency responded to a volunteer’s dangerous illness. Three months before he died, Mr. Castle suffered gastrointestinal problems and complained to his Peace Corps doctor of worrisome weight loss, but he received scant follow-up care.

When he fell severely ill, the outside expert found, the same doctor, a Chinese-trained gynecologist, was slow to see that he needed hospitalization and delayed calling an ambulance, which then got lost trying to reach him. By the time Mr. Castle arrived at the hospital, he had stopped breathing. An agency doctor who conducted an internal inquiry into the death raised questions about an “apparent lack of defined leadership in dealing with a very sick volunteer.”

The story reported that the new leadership of the Peace Corps is attentive to these issues, and I have confidence that Carrie Hessler-Radelet is the right person to be guiding the agency through these tough times:

Ms. Hessler-Radelet declined to answer questions about Mr. Castle. But in a lengthy interview in her Washington office in March, she said that since 2010, the Peace Corps has been re-examining all aspects of its operations, like health care, volunteer training and recruitment, in what she called “a period of incredible, intense reflection and action.”

Here are a few statistics that the article quoted:

Founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to spread American good will overseas, the Peace Corps today has 7,200 volunteers serving in 65 countries. They are mostly female (63 percent), overwhelmingly unmarried (93 percent), largely white (76 percent) and youthful (only 8 percent are older than 50).

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