Death of a Panama PCV

A Peace Corps volunteer currently serving in the indigenous region of the Ngabe Bugle has been found dead, his body in a creek. The circumstances are unclear; the young man still had his wallet, cell phone, and watch — robbery was clearly not involved. There were no visible injuries that would suggest homicide.

News of the death prompted a wave of emails among my group of late 1960’s volunteers.

I felt pretty invulnerable when I was a Panama PCV — clearly that was misguided, although no one in our group of 100 died during our time there. PCV’s are subject to the same dangers of illness, accident, and foul play as the people who live in the country of service. And, in some places, aid workers are now actually targeted.

In some countries, like China, medical care for PCV’s is contracted out instead of being overseen by a U.S. trained physician dedicated to their care. A young man serving in China died when he got a catastrophic diarrhea and was inexplicably not given appropriate IV fluids in a local clinic — a relatively straightforward treatment that might have stabilized his condition.

The short and succinct observation is that doing good does not keep you well or safe.

People sometimes ask if I had to do it again, would I become a PCV? I would, at the age I did it, but not now — the conditions are much too difficult, even in a developing country like Panama. The conditions for this young man were clearly too difficult, although in ways we may never know.

2 thoughts on “Death of a Panama PCV

  1. Service abroad, indeed has risks. It’s tragic to that the PCV died. I do worry, even traveling about the lack of access to contemporary healthcare.

  2. for Katie: Not surprisingly, several hundred PCV’s have died during their service — there’s a web site with their names, countries of service, and dates of death. I too am concerned about the lack of state of the art health care when traveling — including in Panama. Even with travel insurance and medical evacuation, there is the likelihood of encountering the local medical system for initial care. During the swine flu epidemic that happened while I was there last June, the thought of being in a Panamanian hospital with hordes of others having breathing difficulty and not enough equipment or health care providers to treat the sick was truly frightening. I took the risk and none of us were affected by the flu, but I was certainly aware of it during the whole visit.

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