High-profile Liberian Ebola survivor dies after childbirth because nurses ‘wouldn’t go near her’
In November 2014, Salome Karwah of Liberia graced the cover of Time magazine as a symbol of strength and humanity after surviving Ebola and using her experience to help others with the virus.
But last month, Karwah died shortly after giving birth to her fourth child – and her husband blames the stigma attached to Ebola.
“My wife died because she was not catered to by nurses and doctors. The reason, I believe, is because she is an Ebola survivor,” James Harris said. “I am saying this because I heard some nurses telling friends not to go near my wife because she is a survivor.”
The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa starting in 2013, which hit Liberia the hardest, infected nearly 29,000 people by conservative estimates, killing more than a third.
Karwah worked as a counsellor for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) after recovering from Ebola in the summer of 2014, helping others to cope with the psychological toll of the haemorrhagic fever.
One evening in February, Harris said, his wife was admitted to hospital in the capital, Monrovia, where she gave birth by caesarean section. She returned home just two days later, telling her husband that some of the nurses refused to touch her.
Complications soon developed, and Harris rushed to hospital seeking help. His concerns were dismissed by one doctor, and he was told to go to a pharmacy to buy an injection for his wife.
The medication was nowhere to be found, however, and Karwah was dead shortly afterwards.
“My wife was an Ebola survivor. She contracted the virus during the outbreak and she recovered,” Harris said, bouncing the healthy new baby on his knee.
“She saved lives, she held babies who had Ebola, and she helped them to get better. She did not deserve this kind of treatment.”
Karwah lost her parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins and a niece to Ebola, according to Time.
In an article for The Guardian in October 2014, Karwah wrote of the Ebola survivors she helped: “I help them with all my might because I understand the experience – I’ve been through the very same thing.”
Her photograph was chosen for the cover of Time when those fighting the Ebola outbreak were named person of the year. The hospital has refused to comment on her death, but Liberia’s chief medical officer, Francis Kateh, told AFP that the authorities were investigating the case.
Karwah’s brother, Reginald Karwah, said her body was tested for Ebola and the result came back negative.
Many Ebola survivors continue to suffer high levels of shame and discrimination, which has been exacerbated by findings that the virus can stay in certain parts of the body for at least nine months after a patient has recovered.
Liberia also has some of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, according to the United Nations.
The UN’s Population Fund has said that access to life-saving care has deteriorated since the Ebola outbreak because of the strain it has inflicted on the country’s fragile health system.