Via The New York Times, an op-ed: Stop Treating Liberia’s President Like a Hero. She’s a Human. Excerpt:
One of the saddest stories of this year has been the death of Salome Karwah, a Liberian health worker who was featured on the cover of Time magazine as a fighter in the 2014 Ebola epidemic.
She lost most of her family to the disease. She was also infected, but she recovered to return to the clinical front lines to care for hundreds of other patients. Earlier this year in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, she died from complications of childbirth.
Her death draws new attention to the governing structure in Liberia. The scope of the dysfunction that Ebola revealed is beyond what can be chalked up simply to being a weak state in West Africa. In 2014, Nigeria logged about 18,500 face-to-face visits to stop its few Ebola cases cold. Neighboring Sierra Leone, which had a higher number of initial infections than Liberia, ultimately experienced fewer Ebola deaths.
But Liberian health systems under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to be elected president of an African nation, were overwhelmed by the outbreak. Just 50 doctors at that time served Liberia’s 4.3 million people. Sluggish education and quarantine efforts failed because of widespread mistrust of the government, and particularly Ms. Johnson Sirleaf.
Elected president in 2005, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf has become a sainted figure in development circles: pioneering politician, canny economic strategist, rightful recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. Her story is often yoked to that of Liberia’s “market women” and other female civil society leaders in Liberia like Mary Broh, Grace Kpaan and Leymah Gbowee, who rose to influence with less fanfare. Female political participation proved vital to Ms. Johnson Sirleaf’s victorious coalition in 2005.
In retrospect, tethering Ms. Johnson Sirleaf’s story to feminist energy feels superficial. What use is women’s empowerment when neglected health systems can so easily snuff out women’s lives?
Ms. Karwah died 11 years after Ms. Johnson Sirleaf vowed to make reducing Liberia’s high maternal mortality rate one of her top priorities. Her death resulted in part from continued ignorance about and stigmatization of Ebola survivors, despite Ms. Johnson Sirleaf’s loud proclamations of a renaissance in health care preparedness.
Her passing speaks to the execution gap that has defined Ms. Johnson Sirleaf’s tenure in office, and the complicity of international elites in ignoring it.