Peace Corps Pays $750,000 After Volunteer Dies from Misdiagnosed Malaria

Peace Corps Pays $750,000 After Volunteer Dies from Misdiagnosed Malaria

In a disheartening turn of events, the Peace Corps recently agreed to pay $750,000 to the family of Bernice Heiderman, a passionate 24-year-old volunteer from Illinois. Tragically, her life was cut short in 2018 on the island nation of Comoros in East Africa. The unsettling demise was a consequence of a misdiagnosis by the agency’s medical professionals, leading to a wave of distress and a federal lawsuit by the Heiderman family.

Misdiagnosis and Legal Action

The incident unfolded when Bernice Heiderman, experiencing symptoms of dizziness, nausea, fever, and fatigue, sought medical assistance from the local Peace Corps doctor. However, the gravity of her condition was overlooked, as she was merely advised to drink water and take aspirin. This negligence, as highlighted by the lawsuit filed by the family’s law firm, further escalated the severity of her illness, ultimately leading to her untimely demise.

Grieving Family’s Struggle

Julie Heiderman, Bernice’s mother, expressed her family’s dissatisfaction with the Peace Corps, emphasizing the agency’s mistreatment during the entire ordeal. Their refusal to communicate without legal representation and the delayed return of Bernice’s remains intensified the distress and indignation felt by the mourning family. The Heidermans, buoyed by their daughter’s unwavering desire to serve her country through the Peace Corps, lamented the agency’s callous treatment, which has now been partially acknowledged through the recent settlement.

Revelations and Accountability

Following a post-mortem examination, it was revealed that Bernice Heiderman’s cause of death was malaria, a treatable yet potentially fatal disease in certain contexts. A subsequent investigation conducted by the Peace Corps’ inspector general exposed critical lapses in standard protocols, including the failure to conduct a basic blood test, which could have promptly detected the presence of the disease. The absence of regular malaria suppression medication in the months leading up to her passing further exacerbated the situation, leading to profound questions about the agency’s adherence to safety protocols.

Global Impact of Malaria

Malaria, a prevalent ailment in tropical regions, poses a significant global health threat, particularly in African nations. According to the World Health Organization, millions of cases are reported annually, with a considerable number resulting in fatalities. The severity of the situation underscores the necessity for meticulous medical attention and preventive measures, especially for individuals serving in regions prone to such health risks.

Bernice Heiderman’s Legacy

Prior to her unfortunate passing, Bernice Heiderman was an ardent education volunteer in Comoros, dedicated to teaching English and fostering cultural exploration among her students. Her efforts in establishing the Junior Explorer’s Club and securing funds for educational excursions highlighted her commitment to enriching the lives of the local community. The National Peace Corps Association paid homage to her dedication, underscoring the need for improved healthcare protocols to safeguard the well-being of volunteers across the globe.


The somber episode of Bernice Heiderman’s misdiagnosed malaria and subsequent passing serves as a stark reminder of the importance of stringent healthcare measures within organizations like the Peace Corps. While the recent settlement offers a semblance of closure for the grieving family, it also amplifies the pressing need for enhanced medical care and proactive measures to ensure the safety and well-being of volunteers, safeguarding the legacy of individuals like Bernice Heiderman who selflessly dedicate themselves to serving others.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Peace Corps:

  1. What is the Peace Corps, and what does it do?

    The Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the United States government, founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. It sends American volunteers to various countries to work on development projects and provide assistance in areas such as education, health, agriculture, and the environment.

  2. Who can join the Peace Corps, and what are the eligibility requirements?

    To join the Peace Corps, applicants must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old. While there is no upper age limit, most volunteers are typically in their early twenties to early thirties. The organization looks for individuals with diverse skills and experiences, including education, technical expertise, and language proficiency.

  3. What is the duration of a Peace Corps assignment, and where do volunteers typically serve?

    The length of a Peace Corps assignment varies, with most placements lasting around two years. Volunteers can be stationed in a wide range of countries across the globe, primarily in developing regions where their skills and knowledge can make a meaningful impact.

  4. What kind of support do Peace Corps volunteers receive during their service?

    Peace Corps volunteers receive comprehensive support, including language and cultural training, a living stipend that covers basic expenses, medical and dental care, and ongoing support from Peace Corps staff. The organization also provides safety and security measures to ensure the well-being of its volunteers.

  5. What are the benefits of joining the Peace Corps, and how does it contribute to personal and professional development?

    Joining the Peace Corps offers volunteers a unique opportunity to gain valuable cross-cultural experience, develop leadership and communication skills, and make a tangible difference in communities around the world. Volunteers often build lasting relationships, acquire a deeper understanding of global issues, and enhance their resilience and adaptability, which can be beneficial for future academic and career pursuits.

As a content writer for US Insight News, David writes articles on politics, business, technology, and other topics. He conducts research to develop story ideas and sources. David then crafts the articles in a compelling, objective voice on tight deadlines.

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