Liberian Ebola fighter dies during childbirth; family blames virus stigma

A Liberian Ebola survivor-turned-fighter who appeared on a TIME Magazine Person of the Year cover in 2014 died during childbirth last week, and her family believes stigma of the disease led to her early demise. When Ebola ravaged her hometown in August 2014, Salome Karwah contracted the infectious disease, and witnessed it kill her mother, father, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins and a niece.

Karwah told a TIME reporter she was part of a group of survivors who had “superpowers” since gaining immunity to the virus, and that she wanted to use her health to help others recover. She joined the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Ebola treatment unit and closely dealt with victims of the virus, which is transmitted through direct contact of bodily fluids like semen and blood.

“I can do things that other people can’t,” Karwah told TIME in 2014. “If an Ebola patient is in his house, and his immediate relative cannot go to him, I can go to him. I can take [care of] him.”

More on this...

She eventually married fiancé James Harris and had her third child. She gave birth to their fourth child on Feb. 17, 2017 via caesarian section and was released three days later, TIME reported. However, Karwah began suffering from convulsions hours after returning home and had to be rushed back to the hospital, where no staff members would get near her.

“They said she was an Ebola survivor,” Josephine Manley, Karwah’s sister, told TIME. “They didn’t want contact with her fluids. They all gave her distance. No one would give her an injection.”

Manley told the magazine it was not clear what caused her sister’s seizures, but that she believed stigma surrounding the virus played a part in her death.

“To survive Ebola and then die in the larger yet silent epidemic of health system failure … I have no words,” Ella Watson-Stryker, an MSF health promoter who worked with Karwah, told TIME.

TIME had chosen to feature a group of Ebola front-line caregivers as Person of the Year in 2014 for “their tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to boost its defenses, for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving.”

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

Many survivors have been shunned by their families, communities, and even health workers.The virus can lie dormant and hide in parts of the body such as the eyes and testicles long after leaving the bloodstream -- raising questions about whether it can ever be beaten, with West Africa's 17,000 survivors acting as a potential human reservoir.

Reuters contributed to this report.