The First Pregnant Woman to Survive Ebola in Liberia
Josephine Karwah’s parents always valued health, science, and generosity – beliefs they passed down to their daughter, who is studying biology and chemistry with the aim of joining the healthcare field. At the start of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Josephine’s parents were well on their way to opening a community clinic. So as nearby friends and family fell ill with the virus, which was easily mistaken by the Karwahs and others for more familiar sicknesses like malaria and typhoid, the couple opened their doors to patients without hesitation. This altruism came at a heavy price: within two weeks of caring for a growing number of sick friends and relatives, Josephine, her uncle, her sister, and her parents all came down with Ebola. Josephine was several months pregnant at the time.
When it became clear that Ebola had arrive at their doorstep, the Karwah family immediately sought specialized care. But when they arrived at the ELWA Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Monrovia, the facility was overwhelmed with patients. Due to her pregnancy and the low survival rate associated with pregnant women infected with Ebola, Josephine was labeled a “special case,” given several check-ins, and instructed to drink plenty of water. The death of eight expecting mothers at the ETU heightened Josephine’s fears for her own life and that of her unborn child, but she pressed on with her treatment routine. Even the healthcare workers in the ETU did not think she would recover. Josephine proved them all wrong and became the first pregnant woman in Liberia to survive Ebola. Sadly, her parents did not make it.
While Josephine’s story garnered significant media attention, her community remained distant and skeptical of her recovery. When she was first released from the ETU, only her boyfriend, George Weah, stood by her. In a show of solidarity and support, George was also there when Josephine began experiencing severe stomach pains and bleeding. The couple tried to catch a taxi to return to the ELWA for treatment, but due to fears associated with external bleeding during Ebola times, no driver would pick them up. Josephine miscarried on the street – a tragedy she says was more painful than anything she experienced at the ETU. But instead of sinking into depression, she channeled her energy into working with the US military to give practical training on counseling techniques for those working in ETUs. In loving memory of her parents, she still plans to open a community clinic.
Music: Ryan Huff
Editor: Sarah Grile
Videography: Sarah Grile, Morgana Wingard