Beyond Borders

I survived Ebola for a reason – to help others fight the disease

By Salome Karwah – Ebola survivor turned carer at
MSF’s Elwa 3 treatment centre, Monrovia

It all started with a severe headache and a fever. Then, later, I began to vomit and I got diarrhoea. My father was sick and my mother too. My niece, my fiancé and my sister had all fallen sick. We all felt helpless.

It was my uncle who first got the virus in our family. He contracted it from a woman he helped bring to hospital. He got sick and called our father for help, and our father went to him to bring him to a hospital for treatment. A few days after our father came back, he too got sick. We all cared for him and got infected too.

On 21 August, I and my whole family made our way to MSF’s Ebola treatment centre in Monrovia. When we arrived at the treatment unit, the nurses took my mother and me to the same tent. My fiancé, my sister, my father and my niece were taken to separate tents. My sister was pregnant and had a miscarriage.

They took our blood and we waited for them to announce the results. After the lab test, I was confirmed positive. I thought that was the end of my world. I was afraid, because we had heard people say that if you catch Ebola, you die. The rest of my family also tested positive for the virus.

After a few days in the isolation ward, my condition became worse. My mother was also fighting for her life. She was in a terrible state. At that point, the nurses made the decision to move me to another tent. By then, I barely understood what was going on around me. I was unconscious. I was helpless. The nurses had to bathe me, change my clothes and feed me. I was vomiting constantly and I was very weak.

I was feeling severe pains inside my body. The feeling was overpowering. Ebola is like a sickness from a different planet. It comes with so much pain. It causes so much pain that you can feel it in your bones. I’d never felt pain like this in my lifetime.

My mother and father died while I was battling for my life. I didn’t know they were dead. It was only one week later, when I had started recovering, that the nurses told me that they had passed away. I was sad, but I had to accept that it had happened. I was shocked that I had lost both my parents. But God spared my life from the disease, as well as the lives of my sister, my niece and my fiancé.

Though I am sad at the death of my parents, I’m happy to be alive. God could not have allowed the entire family to perish. He kept us alive for a purpose. I am grateful to the workers here for their care. They are very nice people. They really care for their patients. The care, the medication and self-encouragement can help a patient to survive.

When you’re sick with Ebola, you always have to encourage yourself: take your medication; drink enough fluids – whether it’s oral rehydration solution, or water or juices – but don’t keep your system empty. Even if they bring you food and you don’t have any appetite to eat, just eat the soup.

After 18 days in the treatment centre, the nurses came in one morning and took my blood and carried it to the laboratory for testing. Later that evening, at around 5pm, I saw them return. They came and announced to me that I was ready to go home because I had tested negative.

Then I felt that my life had begun again. I went home with joy, despite having lost my parents.

I arrived back home feeling happy, but my neighbours were still afraid of me. Few of them welcomed me back; others are still afraid to be around me – they say that I still have Ebola. There was a particular group that kept calling our house ‘Ebola home’. But, to my surprise, I saw one of the ladies in the group come to my house to ask me to take her mother to the treatment centre because she was sick with Ebola. I did it, and I felt happy that at least she knows now that someone cannot go to a supermarket to buy Ebola. It’s a disease that anyone, any family, can get. If someone has Ebola, it isn’t good to stigmatise them, because you don’t know who is next in line to contract the virus.

Now, I am back at the treatment centre, helping people who are suffering from the virus to recover. I am working as a mental health counsellor. I find pleasure in helping people, and that is what brought me here. My efforts here may help other people to survive.

When I am on a shift, I counsel my patients; I talk to them and I encourage them. If a patient doesn’t want to eat, I encourage them to eat. If they are weak and are unable to bathe on their own, I help to bathe them. I help them with all my might because I understand the experience – I’ve been through the very same thing.

I feel happy in my new role. I treat my patients as if they are my children. I talk to them about my own experiences. I tell them my story to inspire them and to let them know that they too can survive. This is important, and I think it will help them.

My elder brother and my sister are happy for me to work here. They support me in this 100 percent. Even though our parents didn’t survive the virus, we can help other people to recover.
Médecins Sans Frontières is an international medical humanitarian organisation that delivers aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters or exclusion from health care in more than 60 countries around the world.


The Durbin Column

How to avoid catching the flu

For those among us unlucky enough to be vulnerable to such things, seasonal changes can mean sickness is inevitable. The cold weather in particular can leave the best of us with minor ailments such as colds and sore throats. Health experts say that a rise or fall in temperature can distract our immune systems from their task of protecting our well-being. More cases are seen during the winter months because the heat – which is a natural protector against influenza and kills most viruses – has gone away. Secondly, the air is dryer and this thins the lining of the nose and mouth making you more prone to illnesses.

In many countries, influenza is one of the biggest causes of short-term illness. Commonly known as flu, it is most prevalent during the winter months in the northern hemisphere, while most cases increase between April and September in the southern hemisphere. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, headache, fatigue, runny nose, muscular aches and sometimes diarrhoea and vomiting.

Flu can affect anyone, but children under 5, people aged 65 and over and pregnant women are at greater risk. Those with existing conditions such as diabetes or obesity, respiratory problems such as asthma, heart diseases, chronic illnesses or kidney or liver problems often have a weaker immune system, so they are also in a high-risk group. These groups can experience far more severe symptoms such as pneumonia, ear infections, asthma attacks and even heart failure as a result of influenza.

Some people living in hot climates may assume that they will avoid the flu, however it is a global virus that affects everybody. Excessive air conditioning, poor ventilation and a multicultural and everchanging population who bring viruses from their home countries all contribute to the spread of the virus.

So what is the best way to avoid flu? The main things people can do to help themselves include drinking plenty of fluids, getting enough sleep and washing hands regularly. Having a good diet is also key, with foods rich in zinc such as beef, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds and spinach, great quality protein such as eggs, lentils, salmon and taking an antioxidant supplement.

Having said that, studies have shown that getting a flu injection will also help to substantially reduce the risk of catching it. Not all flu viruses will be preventable however, and the level of protection may vary between people so it’s not a 100% guarantee that you’ll be flu-free. Nevertheless, if you do catch it, the virus is likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.

In November, Saudi Arabia launched a Kingdom-wide vaccination campaign against seasonal flu. The vaccination is suitable for people of all age groups including pregnant women, patients suffering chronic diseases such as diabetes, renal problems, heart and lung disease, and health officials. Speaking at a conference recently, Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister Adel Fakeih urged health workers in the public and private sectors to help people take precautionary measures against flu through vaccination. Saudi Arabia is currently offering flu jabs in all government hospitals and nearly 2000 primary healthcare centres for free. School children are also being vaccinated.

In the UK flu shots are also offered by many employers to reduce lost working hours. Flu is one of the biggest causes of short-term illnesses and can harm business through the number of sick days taken, particularly at the end of the year when winter arrives and flu is more prevalent.

Here at Durbin we offer our staff free vaccinations against flu – it benefits them and us as sickness leave is reduced and the spread of the illness is minimised.

Durbin PLC is a British company based in South Harrow, London. Established in 1963, the company specialises in supplying quality assured pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and consumable supplies to healthcare professionals and aid agencies in over 180 countries. As well as reacting rapidly to emergency situations, Durbin PLC responds to healthcare supply needs from local project level to national scale programmes. Web address: Email:


The Roche Column

Roche Diagnostics brings the Power of Knowing – the value of diagnostics in healthcare

For healthcare providers to deliver the most optimized care to patients, diagnostics are becoming increasingly important. With quality tools for diagnosis, clinicians can have access to accurate and reliable results in the right time; this equips them with the knowledge and resources to make the correct diagnosis, implement the best treatment, and prevent disease progression by predicting the care needed for the best patient outcome. The value of diagnostics lies in having the right information available, which is why Roche Diagnostics believes in “The Power of Knowing”– a term that defines the value diagnostics bring to our health.

Diagnostics are more than just a precursor to treatment; they are about intervention. The Power of Knowing allows healthcare professionals to manage disease and deliver patient care. As such, it is of paramount importance that the diagnostic tools used are reliable and accurate. Roche Diagnostics is committed to building successful partnerships with laboratories, to provide fast and reliable results needed for life-changing decisions. The broad range of tests offered by Roche Diagnostics, together with their pioneering technologies, contributes to a new phase of sustainable healthcare in disease prevention and management. This involves the integration of multiple areas – prevention, prediction and treatment, which can be seen in Roche’s broad range of solutions in areas such as oncology and women’s health.

While cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women between the age of 15 and 441, it can be prevented with early detection to improve patient outcomes. The average 5-year survival rate is estimated to be 90% for cervical cancer2, demonstrating the value of early detection. Roche’s human papillomavirus (HPV) test gives clinicians the Power of Knowing whether their patient is at risk of developing cervical cancer in order to proceed with the best preventative measures. The test ultimately saves lives by protecting women from the unnecessary burden of cancer and related treatments later on in life.

Similarly, breast cancer is another common cancer in women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Approximately 15 –25% of breast cancers cases are positive for human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2)3. With early detection, the average 5-year survival rate is estimated to be 89% for breast cancer4. Roche Diagnostic’s tests that allow early detection of HER2 can eliminate treatment trial and error as well as save time and costs. With our personalised healthcare tests cancer clinicians can better stratify their patients, depending on their diagnosis, into the best treatment decision, eliminating trial and error and saving time, costs, and most importantly, lives.

Early detection and diagnosis is also important in pre-eclampsia, which occurs in 3–5% of pregnancies during the second half of gestation5. It is usually difficult to diagnose due to variable features and unspecific symptoms, but with the test to detect soluble form of vascular endothelial growth factor receptor and placental growth factor (sFlt-1/PlFG), clinicians can predict the risk of complications at birth. Subsequent administration of special care and monitoring can then protect the health and safety of the mother and child.

Roche Diagnostics is investing in pushing the boundaries through innovation so that the development of products and solutions that help predict and prevent disease can be consistently delivered. Through the Power of Knowing, healthcare professionals can make the right decisions for their patients at the right time. Roche Diagnostics offers the industry’s broadest range of tests and pioneering technologies, the solutions can give an accurate diagnosis, detect risk of disease, predict how disease may progress, and enable the right treatment decision to be made at the first opportunity.


1. World Health Organization. 1 in 100 women in Europe will develop cervical cancer. Available online: http://www. noncommunicable-diseases/cancer/news/ news/2013/04/1-in-100-women-in-europewill- develop-cervical-cancer

2. A, Ward EM, Center MM, Hao Y, Siegel RL, Thun MJ. Global Cancer Facts & Figures 2007. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2007

3. WebMD, Breast Cancer Health Centre. Last accessed March 2014 at http:// types-er-positive-her2-positive

4. National Cancer Institute. SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2010. Last accessed March 2014 at csr/1975_2010/results_merged/topic_survival.pdf

5. Roberts, J. M., & Cooper, D. W. (2001). Pathogenesis and genetics of preeclampsia. The Lancet, 357, 53-56.


 Date of upload: 10th Jan 2015


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