1 March 2017

Liberia: Stigmatized to Death After Beating Ebola

Photo: TIME
TIME magazine 2014 Person of the Year cover.

Salome Karwah, a young Liberian nursing assistant, who survived the scourge of the Ebola outbreak in 2014, has died in childbirth, the Time Magazine has reported on its website.

According to the magazine's latest edition, Ms Karwah died on Feb. 21, from 'complications' after childbirth, and the lingering social stigma faced by many Ebola survivors, particularly in Liberia.

During the Ebola upsurge, Ms Karwah grabbed the world's attention when the US-based Time Magazine put her on its cover page as their 2014 Person of the Year.

She later became Mrs. Salome K. Harris, after she married her longtime partner, James Harris. Until then, she had, along with James and her sister, Josephine Manley, survived the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) in 2014, when the virus ravaged through West Africa, including Liberia, where at least a recorded 4,809 persons died.

Sadly, when the disease swept through her town in Margibi County in August of that year, her mother, father, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins and a niece fell prey to the deadly virus.

Thanks to fate, Salome survived and later joined Mecedins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and started battling the disease.

MSF helped save the lives of more than 1000 persons who had contracted the deadly infectious disease.

Though Salome survived the virus, Liberia's underdeveloped health system couldn't save her after she had delivered her third baby.

"It was her determination to help Ebola patients when most of the world fled in fear that put her among the Ebola fighters who were named TIME Magazine's Person of the Year in 2014," Time Magazine's Arya Baker said in a recent article about Salome.

The 2014 West African Ebola outbreak killed 11,310 people, but at least Salome was not one of them.

Karwah used to joke that survivors had "super powers," because, after overcoming the disease, they were forever immune from it. Like any superhero, she often quipped, it was her moral duty to use those powers for the betterment of humankind. So as soon as she recovered, she returned to the hospital where she had been treated -- the MSF Ebola Treatment Unit nears the ELWA Hospital in Paynesville, just outside Monrovia to help other patients. Not only did she understand what they were going through, she was one of the rare people, who could comfort the sick with hands-on touch. She could spoon-feed elderly sufferers, and rock feverish babies to sleep.

In November 2014, she, her fiancé and her sister were already planning to re-open the family medical clinic that had been forced to close when her father, the local doctor, succumbed to Ebola. She envisioned a kind of super-clinic, whose survivor nurses were able to go to places where other medical personnel feared to tread, because of their immunity. "I can do things that other people cannot," she told the magazine reporter Paul Moakley in 2014. "If an Ebola patient is in his house, and his immediate relatives cannot go to him, I can go to him. I can take (care of) him," she said.

At the time, Karwah seemed invincible. When the outbreak in Liberia ended, and people could have a party without fear of catching the virus, she finally married her fiancé, changed her name to Salome Harris, and had her third child. She picked the name Destiny. Then she got pregnant again. On February 17, she delivered a healthy boy, Solomon, by caesarian section. She was discharged from hospital three days later.

Within hours of coming home, Karwah lapsed into convulsions. Her husband and her sister rushed her back to the hospital, but no one would touch her. Her foaming mouth and violent seizures panicked the staff. "They said she was an Ebola survivor," says her sister by telephone. "They didn't want contact with her fluids. They all gave her distance. No one would give her an injection."

Karwah died the next day. "My heart is broken," says Manley. "Salome loves her children, her James. The one-year-old, the newborn, they will grow up never remembering their mother's face."

Manley doesn't know what caused the convulsions, but believes that something went wrong during the surgery. Still, she says, if her sister had been treated immediately, she might have had a chance. Instead, "she was stigmatized."

News of Karwah's death rippled far beyond her small community near Harbel. Those who knew her for her tireless encouragements in the MSF Ebola treatment clinic were devastated. "To survive Ebola and then die in the larger, yet silent epidemic of health system failure...I have no words," says Ella Watson-

Stryker, a MSF health promoter who worked with Karwah and was also among the Ebola fighters on the 2014 Time Magazine cover.

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