Illinois: African Refugee Dies From AIDS Medication

A US District Court judge has awarded $4.5 million to the family of a woman who died after doctors at a federally funded clinic failed to notice she was having a bad reaction to an AIDS drug.

Jacqueline Makombe, 39, contracted HIV after being gang-raped by Congo's military. With her husband and three young children, she traveled across Africa as a refugee before coming to the United States and settling in Chicago.

David Pritchard, who represented the family at trial, argued that lactic acidosis "was a known side effect of the drug," Zerit, that Makombe had been prescribed. "She kept coming in with all these symptoms. All they would have had to do was to switch her to another medication, and she would have lived." Pritchard filed the suit under the federal tort claims act, which provides for a verdict by a judge, rather than by a jury.

Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer rejected the government's argument that the side effect was not widely known. "Mrs. Makombe was receiving state-of-the-art HIV treatment; and her treatment was working," the judge wrote. "That she died from the very medication that was helping her, at a time when her life was full of promise, is wrenching."

A spokesperson said the US attorney's office was reviewing response options, including appeal. The judge awarded $1 million to each of Makombe's children, $1 million to her estate and $500,000 to her husband, Innocent Kasongo.