When I first read that George Neumayr was dead I thought it was a stupid joke but then messages from various sources confirmed the news. It is said that he died of malaria, which seems odd to many people. In every photo he Tweeted from Cote d'Ivoire he was either chomping a cigar or looking like a happy tourist posing with the locals. He didn't appear feverish or in pain at all. On the other hand, he did complain of an episode of food poisoning. It is possible that the nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that can come with malaria or Yellow Fever was mistaken for sickness from eating food that had been poorly cooked or kept in unsanitary conditions. Tap water is potable in Cote d'Ivoire but the State Department advises that you stick to bottled water and realize that the ice cubes in your drink at the restaurant or bar probably came from the tap.
Nobody has commented on what George Neumayr's general health was like but some men, even ones who don't look robust, have the mental and physical constitution of bulls. It takes something catastrophic to make them drop or even admit to being sick. Years ago, my Uncle Junior got walking pneumonia and would have died if other relatives hadn't nagged him into seeing his doctor, who called an ambulance. Until he was unconscious my uncle was insisting that he just had a cold and was not really sick. I can see Neumayr refusing to accept being sick, especially while on a business and pleasure trip until it overwhelmed him. Multiple people have written eloquently about the tragic loss of this much loved and admired Catholic author and reporter. There is passionate speculation about his enemies in various chanceries and the circumstances surrounding his death and there may never be a satisfactory answer.
I am about to write something indelicate and if you are someone who loved the late George Neumayr you may want to stop reading now. It's been about three weeks since the death and there have been no indications that George was able to marry his fiancee and the body was buried in country. Presumably the remains are in a morgue until Neumayr's next-of-kin can fulfill all the local government requirements for release. There have been no reports about the conditions of morgues in Cote d'Ivoire. Has the body been embalmed? Does Cote d'Ivoire require that? Have tissue samples been preserved? The mortal remains may have deteriorated beyond the point where a proper autopsy is even possible.
Contrary to what you've seen in the movies our government doesn't automatically ship deceased civilians home nor does the government pay any medical facility bills. The US consulate takes charge of personal effects and assists next-of-kin to navigate the laws of the land when a citizen dies overseas.
If a US citizen dies in a first world country getting the body home in a timely fashion can be done. A friend of my mother and of mine died in London*, while studying there. The embassy did a fine job helping his elderly parents make it to the hospital in time before he was removed from life support and with paperwork and accommodations until the poor parents could return home. Everything was done with speed and efficiency and kindness. The time from my friend's death to his funeral was not too much more than if he'd died in the US. George Neumayr was visiting a third world country. Nothing about this process is going to be quick.
Out of all the countries to visit in Africa, Cote d'Ivoire is one that shouldn't be on your list unless you are an experienced third world traveler or have family there. The State Department has four levels of travel advisories from "exercise normal precautions," down to the last one which is "do not travel". Cote d'Ivoire is rated at level three, that is "reconsider travel." The country has high violent crime. Home invasion, robbery and carjacking are common. Local police, government officials and soldiers have been known to demand bribes. Embassy personnel are not allowed to travel at night. Visitors are strongly urged to make "evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance," avoid crowds and "obtain comprehensive medical insurance that includes medical evacuation." In the State Department's Traveler's Checklist it states that medical evacuation for treatment could cost up to $100,000.
Lepanto Institute said that George Neumayr refused to go to the hospital-- probably until he couldn't object anymore-- and if you read the State Department description of medical facilities in Cote d'Ivoire I see why:
- Adequate health facilities are available in Abidjan and other major cities, but health care in rural areas is below U.S. standards.
- Public medical clinics lack basic resources and supplies.
- Hospitals and doctors often require payment “up front” prior to service or admission.
- Credit card payment is not always available, and most hospitals and medical professionals require cash payment.
- Medical staff may speak little or no English.
- Generally, in hospitals only minimal staff is available overnight. Consider hiring a private nurse or having family spend the night with the patient, especially a minor child.
- Patients bear all costs for transfer to or between hospitals.
- not widely available, and training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards.
- not equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment.
- Injured or seriously ill travelers may prefer to hire a private ambulance or take a taxi or private vehicle to the nearest major hospital rather than wait for a public ambulance.
In short, Cote d' Ivorie can be a dangerous place and whatever bad happens there could end up staying there. This is a tragedy that probably won't end with a neat explanation. May George Neumayr rest in peace.
* British medicine may be free but I'd rather cut my trip short than trust NHS doctors especially as a foreigner. To this day I still think my friend would be alive if he'd gone to see a doctor at home.