Words by Rose Wanjiku

*Names have been changed to hide identity

An African asylum seeker died under unclear circumstances while undergoing treatment at Universitätsklinikum Ruppin-Brandenburg Hospital.

Questions have been raised over the cause of the death of Mercy Kagai, who died on August 4, 2023 due to what doctors reported as Stage IV lung cancer.

Mercy’s journey in Germany began when she arrived at the asylum reception center in Eisenhüttenstadt on January 12, 2023. She was later transferred to a residence in Wusterhausen/Dosse-Logow, Neuruppin Alle on May 30, 2023. Over a span of just over two months, Mercy went through a series of medical treatments, surgeries, and even a chemotherapy session.

In April 2023, Mercy was transferred from the reception center to a transition center in Wunsdorf, Brandenburg.

While in Wunsdorf, she discovered she had a small swelling on her neck. When she sought treatment, she was given painkillers and told to seek further treatment when she would be transferred to the Heim. Her health problems worsened when she sought treatment at the hospital in Neuruppin. Since then, she was in and out of hospital and taking various medications.

Reports from those close to her indicate that she was treated for tuberculosis (TB) and lung inflammation. However, doctors later determined that she had lung cancer, which allegedly ultimately claimed her life.

According to a close friend named Dominic* Mercy’s treatment journey was marked by uncertainty and pain. Her initial hospital visit, intended to alleviate the neck swelling, turned into months of treatment, including a period where she was admitted into hospital and isolated for treatment of TB.

On some occasions visitation was restricted. During this period, Dominic says he is unaware of the results of the many tests that Mercy had informed him she had undergone. He also says during the period of isolation, Mercy was left for days unattended.

After a period of TB treatment where she was taking 13 tablets, the doctors said that they had misdiagnosed her and started treating her for lung inflammation. They did a biopsy to determine if the swelling on the neck was cancerous and also a non-invasive surgery to drain fluids from her lungs.

According to Dominic so many tests were carried out on Mercy and she was in constant pain. He says they took various samples from different parts of her body yet the tests did not reveal anything, at least not any that the doctors told him.

About four days to her death, Mercy had undergone one chemotherapy session, something that raised eyebrows because she had been under medication to treat lung inflammation.

Friends say that although Mercy was on treatment for over two months, she never indicated that she was informed of her sickness. Despite numerous tests, Dominic claims that Mercy was left in the dark about her condition, with test results not being adequately communicated to her.

“It is a wonder therefore that doctors said she had Stage IV lung cancer. I don’t understand how that could have been the case when they first told her she had an inflammation and then TB,” says Dominic.

“At one point she was taking so many pills that I did not know if they were necessary. One time they changed her medication halfway in her treatment. They said it was not the right one. I have several packets of some of the medication that I was asked to buy for her,” he says.

A particularly puzzling aspect was the decision to administer chemotherapy, seemingly contradictory to the ongoing treatment for lung inflammation. Questions surround the timeline of Mercy’s diagnosis and treatment leading up to her death, especially given the initial diagnoses of inflammation and TB.

Dominic says two days before she died, she had told him she was in pain due to the many blood tests and a biopsy they had done on her lower back.

“I have so many questions because none of the events leading to her death makes sense to me,” he says.

Another friend, Joz*, says she is still in shock. She is dead now and I don’t understand what killed Mercy.

“The doctors told us of a diagnosis that still makes no sense to me. If they say it is cancer, how come they did not know this from the start?” she asks.

Joz, who was registered at the reception camp the same day as Mercy and was her roommate in the Heim, says that if cancer was the cause of death, then the health system failed her friend.

“We all underwent medical tests in Eisen. Like me, Mercy was told she was healthy.”

There are more questions as to why the cancer was not discovered during the mandatory X-Ray scan that all asylum seekers undergo at the reception center in Eisenhüttenstadt. Mercy arrived in the camp in January and she was given a clean bill of health.

Another friend, Paula*, suggests that Mercy might have been treated as an experiment by the hospital due to the frequent changes in diagnosis and medication. In the final weeks before her death, Mercy expressed her pain from the numerous tests and blood draws.

“They seemed to come up with different diagnosis every week. How could they let her take TB medication for such a long time and weeks later say they were wrong. They did not even care after the misdiagnosis. They just changed the medication and continued drawing blood from her,” she says.

Paula says that in the last week before her death, Mercy told her she was in pain because of the many tests she was undergoing.

“She told me that they were doing so many blood tests that her hands were painful at the points they were drawing blood,” she says.

“I think she was also anemic because they took blood from her for tests almost daily,” she says.
There are no clear medical reports as to the cause of Mercy’s death. When Mercy passed away, her friends were called by the hospital but were not allowed to view her body, leaving them with unanswered questions.

Dominic, Joz, Paula, and others have numerous inquiries for the doctors who treated Mercy. They seek clarity on whether Mercy had TB, lung inflammation, or cancer, whether she comprehended her treatment and medications, and what the results of the neck swelling tests revealed. They are also interested in the details of the autopsy report.

These concerned voices fear that Mercy’s case may not be an isolated incident and that there could be issues of negligence within the German healthcare system when it comes to diagnosing and treating migrants. While the discussions may be held in hushed tones for fear of repercussions, they shed light on the challenges faced by refugees within the healthcare system in Germany.