MONROVIA (Reuters) - The family of a Liberian Ebola nurse named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2014 wants to sue a hospital whose staff they say were too scared to treat her when she died of complications around childbirth.
The hospital in the capital Monrovia rejected that claim, saying staff had done all they could save Salome Karwah, who died after giving birth by caesarian section last week. Liberian authorities said this week they are investigating her death.
Karwah worked with charity Doctors Without Borders as a nurse after herself recovering from the often deadly hemorrhagic fever. She was one of five people featured on the Time magazine cover for their work in fighting Ebola.
“The ... family is going to take a lawsuit against the hospital,” her brother Reginald Karwah told Reuters by telephone. “The mismanagement of our (sister’s) condition was due to the fact that they had people on shift who did not handle her case professionally.”
Since her previous exposure — when Ebola ravaged her village and killed a number of her relatives — had rendered her immune, Karwah was able to make direct contact with sick patients that most carers could not.
Time reported that she could even “spoon-feed elderly sufferers, and rock feverish babies to sleep”.
In June last year the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Liberia free of active Ebola virus transmission, the last of four West African countries at the epicenter of the world’s worst outbreak of the disease.
Traces of Ebola can hide in survivors’ bodies long after they have recovered, but health experts say the risk of Ebola re-emerging and being transmitted to others is extremely low. Despite that, there is a great deal of stigma around survivors of the virus in West Africa.
Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francis Kateh told Reuters by telephone the family were “not looking at the reality”.
“I don’t think [stigmatization] is an issue. She stayed there for days before she was discharged, so if there was a stigma against someone with Ebola they would not have touched her or operated on her,” when in fact they did, he said.
“Had ... no one touched her, no one looked at her, then you could say stigmatization (occurred),” he added, denying that this is what happened.
But Karwah’s husband James Harris said he had argued with doctors and nurses at the hospital for three hours to let her in while she lay unattended in an ambulance.
“I feel very bad and angry. My wife fought Ebola, saved other people’s lives and now this was the time for the healthcare workers in Liberia to pay back but they refused.”
The epidemic killed more than 11,300 people and infected some 28,600 from 2013, as it swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to WHO data.
Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Catherine Evans