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Stigma and discrimination are neglected silent killers in Africa

By Dr. Kizito Lubano | March 22nd 2017

In 2014, Salome Karwah was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year for her front line work fighting Ebola in west Africa.

But in February in this year, Karwah died from childbirth complications in Liberia, after hospital staff initially refused to help her due to the stigma that still surrounds the disease.

During the Ebola outbreak of 2014 in Liberia, Karwah contracted the disease and survived, although her parents, brother, uncles, aunts, niece, and cousin all died as a result of Ebola.

Afterward, Karwah decided to dedicate her life to helping others, and got a job at a Medecins San Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) Ebola treatment centre, where she worked as a mental-health counselor.

In an October 2014 essay, Karwah wrote that helping others with the disease brought her pleasure, and that: “If someone has Ebola, it is not good to stigmatise them, because you do not know who is next in line to contract the virus.”

On February 21, however, Karwah died four days after giving birth by cesarean section to a son named Solomon.

Hours after she left the hospital, she began convulsing. She was rushed back to the hospital, but hospital staff initially refused to touch her because of the foam around her mouth, according to Karwah’s sister, Josephine Manly.

“They said she was an Ebola survivor and they did not want contact with her fluids. They all gave her distance. No one would give her an injection”.

The family is not sure what caused Karwah’s convulsions, although Manly suspects that something went wrong during her C-section.

Karwah died the following day, but Manly believes her sister may have survived the complications if she had received immediate treatment.

It is unfortunate that Karwah survived the deadly Ebola disease only to die as a result of the larger yet silent epidemic of health system failure.

Unfortunately, as seen in this case, the stigma and discrimination was perpetuated by those who should know better, the healthcare workers on one of their own.

It is indeed unfortunate.

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