NEWS | Shine A Light

Dead On Arrival, Families Of Deceased COVID-19 Cases Tell

Family members of the late Adriu Kaubale are still reeling from the death of their father. Mr Kaubale passed away around 1:05am last Saturday, July 03 at his home in
15 Jul 2021 18:12
Dead On Arrival, Families Of Deceased COVID-19 Cases Tell
The family of the late Alania Rakaubale in Matata settlement, Lami. INSET: The late Alania Joana Rakaleba. Photo: Leon Lord.

Family members of the late Adriu Kaubale are still reeling from the death of their father.

Mr Kaubale passed away around 1:05am last Saturday, July 03 at his home in Naikurukuru settlement, Lami Village.

He was declared dead on arrival (DOA) by the attending medical officer at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital (CWMH) emergency department.

Mr Kaubale was 53 years old. Like similar cases, permanent secretary for Health Dr James Fong had announced Mr Kaubale’s death as a COVID-19 death.

But relatives of these deceased are disputing severe COVID symptoms as the cause of death.

For years, Mr Kaubale had been living with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hypertension, and a failing kidney.

Mr Kaubale’s eldest daughter, Raijeli Tuinavitilevu said her father did not display any severe COVID illness symptoms.

“If he was positive, why haven’t the medical teams visited us, to let us know to isolate at home,” she said.

When Shine a Light visited the settlement, two neighbouring houses were cordoned off.

They were primary contacts of COVID-19 positive cases.

It was different for Mr Kaubale’s family. There was no yellow tape to cordon their home or officials to come by and swab them. Instead, they freely went about preparations to bury their father.

Mr Kaubale’s colleagues had arrived to build a shed.

The father of six was employed as a driver for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport warehouse in Walu Bay.

He and his son were the breadwinners for the family.

In this weekend’s Shine A Light, we focus on patients who were declared dead on arrival at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital and later tested positive for COVID-19.

Most of them only have access to public health services.

Their families claim they were not instructed by the COVID-19 response team to isolate after the deceased was declared COVID-19 positive.

Shine A Light reached out to four families who recently lost a loved one either at home or on their way to the hospital.

These families questioned the capacity of our health system, its protocols and procedures for swabbing the deceased.

They claim there was no timely response from health workers and Police to attend to their emergency calls.

These families maintain that their deceased relative had passed away because of underlying medical conditions – not COVID-19.

Questions sent to the Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services, Dr James Fong and line minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete remained unanswered when this edition went to press.

Questions were also sent to Police spokeswoman Savaira Tabua, but they also remain unanswered.

Here are their stories.

Rajeli Tuinavitilevu and her mother Rasala Kaubale hold a picture of the late Adriu Kaubale. Photo: Leon Lord

Rajeli Tuinavitilevu and her mother Rasala Kaubale hold a picture of the late Adriu Kaubale. Photo: Leon Lord

1. ADRIU KAUBALE
Mr Kaubale fell sick a week before his passing away. It was Wednesday, June 30, 2021.

He knocked off early from work and went to Bayly Clinic in Suva. He normally went there for his medical review.

Because he suffered from hypoglycemia, he often displayed symptoms of dizziness, shaking of hands and feet, sweating (cold sweat) and lightheadedness.

He was swabbed at the Bayly Clinic. His results came out negative. He also dropped his sick sheet at work on the same day.

That was the last time he set foot at his workplace.

The following day, (Thursday, July 1, 2021), he phoned his workplace to say that he needed more time to rest.

Mr Kaubale spent at least a week with his family before his demise.

His daughter, Ms Tuinavitilevu was emotional as she described the life of his father. Mr Kaubale was advised by his family to visit the hospital. But he refused.

“He knew if he had gone to the hospital he would be treated as a COVID-19 case,” Ms Tuinavitilevu said.

He peacefully passed away at 1:05am on Saturday, July 03, 2021 at his home, Nairukuruku settlement, Lami Village.

Ms Tuinavitilevu is adamant that her father did not die of COVID-19. Mr Kaubale consumed alcohol, particularly hard liquor, but never smoked.

He was on medication. Ms Tuinavitilevu recalled that they should have been more cautious and should have checked her father’s sugar intake.

In his daily COVID-19 update on Monday July 05, 2021, Dr Fong said Mr Kaubale’s “family reported that the individual had been unwell for at least a week with fever, headache and generalised weakness. He was not vaccinated.”

Mr Kaubale’s death certificate states he died of severe COVID illness.

“This is not true,” another daughter, Matelita Jane said.

“My dad gets constant headaches all the time, it was normal.

Test result was all verbal. Where’s the proof that he was positive, show us his results.

“They are saying he has COVID-19, but then we are told not to isolate.”

 

EMERGENCY SERVICES
A Police team arrived around 3:30am on Saturday, more than two hours after the death of Mr Kaubale.

Prior to that, all emergency numbers dialed by his family members, including the 917 line.

All were unavailable.

They were referred to the Lami Police Station. Still there was no response.

Even an ambulance was unavailable, the family claimed.

Ms Tuinavitilevu said around 2:30am, her uncle went to look for help.

Police then arrived later.

The family left home after 4am, and arrived at the CWM Hospital emergency department at 4:15am.

Mr Kaubale was swabbed as per the emergency department protocol. At 4:20am, his body was placed in the morgue.

Ms Tuinavitilevu said they were informed of her father’s positive result on Sunday morning at around 9 o’clock.

Mr Kaubale was from Somosomo, Taveuni.

He is survived by his wife, six children and five grandchildren.

 

Vaciseva Babitu, the younger sister of Saiasi Sulinibau Babitu. Photo: Leon Lord

Vaciseva Babitu, the younger sister of Saiasi Sulinibau Babitu. Photo: Leon Lord

2. SAIASI SULINIBAU BABITU
Saiasi Sulinibau Babitu was 60 years old when he died at his home in Lami Village on Wednesday, June 30 2021.

He had diabetes and kidney disease. He was admitted to hospital early this year for his medical condition.

Dr Fong had announced Mr Babitu’s death as a COVID-19 death. But his youngest sister, Vaciseva Babitu is questioning the cause of death.

His death certificate said he died from cardio respiratory disease, because of severe COVID illness and hypertension.

“He never showed any symptoms of COVID-19. It was just his medical condition, his body just gave up, the aging process just took place,” she said.

No medical team has since visited the residence since the death of Mr Babitu.

The family was not advised to isolate, Ms Babitu claimed.

They were never swabbed.

“The medical people kept saying that he suffered from a severe COVID-19 illness, but none of us is sick.”

Mr Babitu was not bedridden.

He was a retired security guard at Lami High School.

Ms Babitu said her brother never left the house during the second wave of outbreak that began in April.

He normally gets his medication from the Lami Health Centre.

She had looked after her brother for more than 10 years.

Mr Babitu was the eldest of seven siblings.

He was from Serua Island.

The day of his passing away Mr Babitu had collapsed in his home at around 9am.

But he was still alive.

He had gone for his shower that morning.

It was cold and his breathing started to change.

He passed away at 3:30pm.

 

EMERGENCY SERVICES

Prior to the time of his death, there was no response to any emergency calls from the family.

One of his brothers’ had tried to get medical staff from the Lami Health Centre to swab Mr Babitu.

“But they didn’t have enough staff, so none of their staff could come up,” Ms Babitu said.

“I kept calling all emergency numbers if someone could at least come and transport him down, because he’s heavy, I even tried the ambulance.”

The family had to wait for close to two hours for the Police or medical professionals.

“And then I managed to talk to a doctor at the Lami Health Centre at around 5pm, they said they were going to come and swab him.”

But no one did.

Ms Babitu said there was lack of coordination between Police and health workers.

Police are the first responders to document someone’s death at home.

Transporting Mr Babitu’s body was also a challenge.

A family member volunteered the use of his work vehicle to transport Mr Babitu to the Lami Health Centre.

He was then swabbed at the back of the carrier by an on-duty doctor.

“We never saw any result of the SWAB given to the family. They didn’t even call us to inform us he was positive,” Ms Babitu said.

The death certificate received on Saturday morning (two days after Mr Babitu’s death) indicated he was positive.

Ms Babitu said they were also not informed of the new procedures at the morgue.

The family had retrieved Mr Babitu’s body on Monday July 05, 2021. But upon arrival, they were told to contact a health inspector who supervises COVID funerals.

Only four people are allowed inside the morgue.

Health inspectors are to be present to provide person­al protective equipment.

“We got the body out around 1pm after the health inspectors had completed supervising a funeral earlier in the day,” Ms Babitu said.

The long wait for a response from the medical staff also incurred cost for the family.

“We were waiting for his death certificate because we wanted to take out his body and bury him ear­lier: I didn’t pay what they charged, it was more than $200 and I gave them $141.”

Ms Babitu claimed that medical staff were not being transparent.

“What is going on with these COV­ID cases?”

“Are they just collecting data on COVID deaths?”

“We were ex­pecting some of them to come and isolate us, but they haven’t.”

 

The late Alania Joana Rakaleba who 93 years of age at the time of her passing.

The late Alania Joana Rakaleba who 93 years of age at the time of her passing.

3. ALANIA JOANA RAKALEBA
On Sunday (04/07) Dr Fong had announced the death of a 93-year­ old woman of Matata, Valenicina, Lami.

She was Alania Joana Rakaleba.

She is from the Solomon Islands with maternal links to Lau.

She died at her home on Friday July 02, 2021 between 8pm to 9pm.

Police had transported her body to the CWM Hospital.

Ms Rakaleba sufered from gout for about seven years. She was bedridden and on medication.

Her family helped her to the Lami Health Centre or CWM Hospital for medical review.

Her health only deteriorated a few weeks ago. Her eldest grandson Ni­umaia Rakaleba said she was also aging.

“She didn’t display any COVID symptoms, except that she would normally cough,” he said.

The family were to complete their 14-day quarantine on Thursday. Their house was cordoned off.

But a family member, in her 40s, had also tested positive. She was self-isolating in their home.

About four families in Matata settlement are living with COVID patients.

Their homes were also cordoned off.

The late Ms Rakaleba and her family were swabbed on Monday June 21, 2021.

They received their results two days later.

“But no one in our family dis­played any COVID-19 symptoms,” Mr Rakaleba said.

She was already at home for an­other week when she passed away.

“Eleven of us family members were all swabbed, and then we were told on Wednesday that we were positive,” Mr Rakaleba said.

No other medical team has visit­ed the area.

The late Ms Rakaleba was a babysitter for the Lobendahn family for about 40 years.

She is survived by her seven chil­dren, 25 grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren.

She was not vaccinated.

Mr Rakaleba has received his first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.

 

Rupeni Camini and his eldest daughter, Repeka Revuya, hold a picture of her mother, Amelia Bukayara. Photo: Leon Lord

Rupeni Camini and his eldest daughter, Repeka Revuya, hold a picture of her mother, Amelia Bukayara. Photo: Leon Lord

4. AMELIA BUKAYARA
Amelia Bukayara was to turn 34 years old in November.

She had suffered from type 1 hypertension.

Dr Fong announced she was a COVID-19 death.

She passed away on Friday, June 25 at her home in Veiraisi, Nadawa.

Her husband Rupeni Camini had just left for work at around 6am that fateful morning.

He’s the as­sistant supervisor (produce de­partment) at NewWorld Valelevu.

Ms Bukayara was swabbed at the CWM Hospital emergency depart­ment, where she was confirmed COVID-19 positive.

But Mr Camini insisted that his wife never displayed any symp­toms of COVID.

She would constantly experience headaches because of her underly­ing medical condition.

She was last admitted at hospital three years ago because of pneumonia.

And like the other two families, they were never advised by health frontliners to isolate.

 

Rupeni Camini, the husband of Alania Bukayara. Photo Leon Lord

Rupeni Camini, the husband of Alania Bukayara. Photo Leon Lord

CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING TO DEATH
The day before her passing, Ms Bukayara was selling her produce at her market stall outside Nayans Supermarket in Nadera.

Mr Camini recalled she followed him home when he knocked off work that Wednesday around 4pm.

He had bought their dinner and asked his wife to cook, unaware of his wife’s constant headache.

Mr Camini only noticed his wife’s sudden silence when he couldn’t hear her in the kitchen.

Ms Bukayara was in the room and unable to handle the pain.

Massage and panadol didn’t bring relief.

Around 11pm, her father, a church pastor, came to pray over her.

But Ms Bukayara’s headache only worsened.

At around lam, Mr Camini was awoken by his wife crying for help.

This time, she also started to vomit.

“I knew something was wrong, but she kept saying that it was just because of her headache,” Mr Camini said.

This occurred again around 5.10 am.

It was Mr Camini’s plan to skip work that morning, but his wife in­sisted that he went.

Ms Bukayara’s last words were to her eldest daughter in Year 8.

‘”I’m taking the lead, everything I own belongs to you’,” Mr Camini recalled his wife saying.
Mr Camilli only received the news of her demise during his morning tea break at work. Police were al­ready at the residence to relay the news.

 

SERVICES
The family were never informed to isolate.

“I told the medical staff that if she tested positive, what about us and what about our two children. They swabbed us adults, but not our children,” Mr Camini said.

He said services and procedures at the mortuary needed to be com­municated to relatives of the de­ceased.

“We were notified to take the body between 5am and 6am on Wednes­day June 30, 2021 for burial at Nas­inu cemetery,” he said.

“But when we reached the morgue, there was no date and time logged to retrieve the body. It was raining and we were told to return at 10am, so we came home.”

Ms Bukayara’s body was finally put into a body bag after 12pm.

She was from Navuniivi, Ra.

She is survived by her husband and two children – a daughter in Year 8 and a son in Year 3.

Edited by Rosi Doviverata 

Feedback: ivamere.nataro@fijisun.com.fj

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This story was published in the Fiji Sun Weekend on  July 10, 2021. Shine A Light is a Fiji Sun Investigative Project.  Reach out to us if you have a news tip. 



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