10 July 2017

Liberia: Celebrated Ebola Nurse's Family Demand Findings of Investigation Into Her Death

Photo: Supplied
Salome Karwah, named a Person of the Year by Time magazine in 2014 because of her work with Ebola in Liberia, died on February 21, 2017.

Dakar — "We deserve to know the truth ... we want to move on"

Relatives of a Liberian Ebola nurse named Time magazine "Person of the Year" in 2014 on Monday demanded to know the findings of an investigation into her death, saying she died from childbirth complications after health staff were too scared to treat her.

Ebola survivor Salomé Karwah, who worked with charity Doctors Without Borders after recovering from the often deadly virus, died in February four days after giving birth by Caesarean section in a major hospital.

Her family say staff refused to touch Karwah because she had contracted Ebola in 2014. Liberia's health ministry in March started investigating the claim, which was rejected by the hospital, saying workers had done all they could to save her.

Yet despite being told in April that the investigation into her death had been concluded, Karwah's relatives say they have since been denied access to the findings by the health ministry.

Liberian authorities were not immediately available to comment.

"It has been four months since her death and we are worried that this episode will drag on and on until people forget," her brother Reginald Karwah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We deserve to know the truth ... we want to move on," he said, adding that the family were considering suing the hospital if they did not receive the results of the investigation soon.

The health ministry's chief medical officer, Francis Kateh, in March said it was "tragic that one of our heroes, who survived Ebola, died from childbirth in a hospital", but that he did not think that stigma or fear were factors in her death.

Karwah was one of five people featured on the Time magazine cover in 2014 for their work battling Ebola.

Since her previous exposure - when Ebola killed a number of her relatives - had rendered her immune, she was able to make direct contact with sick patients that most carers could not.

Liberia was hit hardest by the world's worst Ebola outbreak, losing more than 4,800 people in an epidemic which killed about 11,300 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2013 and 2016.

Traces of Ebola can hide in survivors' bodies long after they have recovered, but health experts say the risk of the virus re-emerging and being transmitted to others is very low.

Despite that, there is stigma around survivors of the virus in West Africa, and some experts fear that could lead to further preventable deaths.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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