Woman dies after being mocked by emergency responders

Naomi Musenga was only 22 years-old. She died because operators did not take her symptoms seriously.

Roxanne D'Arco
Roxanne D'Arco NewsMavens, France
Woman dies after being mocked by emergency responders - NewsMavens
Poster held by relatives of Naomi Musenga hold up a large picture of her during a silent march on May 16, 2018 in Strasbourg. AFP/EAST NEWS

Why this story matters:

This news took some time to become public, but at the end of April, media in Strasbourg published a recording of an emergency phone call from December, 2017. In it, we can hear a woman trying to call for help.

Naomi Musenga, 22 years-old, complained about unbearable stomach pain. A first operator transferred the call to one of her colleagues. Musenga described her symptoms and said she was going to die.

The emergency operator derisively answered:"Yes, you will certainly die one day, like everybody".

Musenga died of multiple organ failure a few hours later.

Once the news came out, the operators' behavior was universally condemned. 

On social media, many commented that Musenga would still be alive, had she been white. Among French medical professionals, there is an enduring stereotype -- often called the Mediterranean syndrom -- that black and Arab patients exaggerate their symptoms. (My own grand-parents, both retired doctors, remember being taught this in the early years of their medical practice.)

Racism is not the only factor. France's health sector is in shambles, and operators work in suboptimal conditions. But whether Musenga's death was caused by racism or poor infrastructure, the conclusion is still the same: France has to change.

Details from the story:

  • In December 2017, 22 years-old Naomi Musenga died in Strasbourg.
  • Hours before, she had tried to get help from the SAMU (the French emergency) but the operator didn't believe her.
  • The recording of her phone call was published in April. 
  • The operator is still anonymous, which is necessary since some SAMU workers have been assaulted these last weeks.
  • The health-sector is denouncing it as a terrible mistake and the result of an outdated system.
  • Public opinion is divided between blaming difficult working conditions or racism.
  • Naomi Musenga's family hopes justice will reveal who is responsable of their daughter's death.
  • On Wednesday May, 16, a march was organized in her town, Strasbourg.
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