In Memoriam: Dr Kaafee Billah
Mukto-Mona Advisory Board
Published on February 13, 2007
Stories of negligent death and corporate callousness are not at all rare in today’s world. And, we feel them all the more when the loss is that of one of us, in this case, that of Ms Snigdha Ali, a member of Mukto-Mona’s Advisory team. On April 18th Snigdha lost her husband Dr. Kaafee Billah, the father of their four year old daughter.
The tragic loss of life took place when Dr Billah, sensing that something was not well with him, called 911 from his workplace at Med Immune, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of vaccines, a company that he had joined recently. When a fire crew and medical support arrived, the Med Immune staff could not trace where the call had originated in their building and they turned them away. They did not, in sheer callousness, even try to verify that, indeed, such a call had been made, though it was clear that no one would make a 911 call for the fun of it or as a prank, especially from a major institution like the building that Dr Billah called from. 10 hours later, Dr Billah’s remains were found by the janitorial staff.
For a company that claims to be at the cutting edge of vaccine research and manufacture, Med Immune had an antiquated phone system that did not allow the medical team to pinpoint the location that Dr Billah had called from. We understand that the up gradation would have cost the company $ 10,000 to 12000 - a paltry sum for a multi billion dollar corporation. But, the ways of corporate greed and callousness kept them from implementing this very basic upgrade to their phone system and Dr Billah paid for the company’s sins of omission with his life.
The callousness that Med Immune’s lower level staff displayed during the last moments of Dr Billah’s life seem symptomatic of the company as a whole. No one from the company called his wife or attended the funeral and a spokesperson for the company read out a short statement telling the media that one of the company’s employees had died . A company Manager even said that he had met Dr Billah in the afternoon, when the tragedy took place in the morning itself. It is obvious, from this action alone, that there is far more to the sad incident than meets the eye. That Med Immune have something to hide is obvious, hence their attempts at saying as little as possible after doing as little as they could and that, too, I turning an emergency medical team away and not putting any energy into helping them find Dr Billah who desperately needed their help while he was alive.
The media announcement of Dr Billah’s demise was also utterly callous, telling the world that a “Bangladeshi migrant” had died due to a glitch in the company’s telephone systems. It was of no concern that the deceased was an Ivy Leaguer, an economist who had worked in various capacities at prestigious organizations including the Center for Disease Control and the World Bank before taking this job up with Med Immune. While we regret this very tragic loss, we, at Mukto-Mona, mark our anger against a corporation that has behaved callously at best and, perhaps, criminally in allowing this tragic death to take place. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Ms Snigdha Ali and her daughter in their time of loss.