Liberian nurse Sedia Marwolo was 32 weeks pregnant when medics arrived at her home and hauled her away to a special coronavirus hospital, which she likened to “hell”.
It was the beginning of a 15-day ordeal during which the 38-year-old cried almost daily and was crippled with fear over whether her baby would survive her COVID-19 infection.
Marwolo’s bosses sent her home in early May — without giving her a reason — although colleagues later told her that her immediate supervisor had tested positive for coronavirus.
Five days after taking it upon herself to take a test, medical staff in protective gear were waiting for Marwolo at her house, while her neighbours watched her be taken away.
In a nightmare for an expecting mother, Marwolo was separated from her family and taken to a coronavirus intensive care unit in a military hospital east of the capital Monrovia.
“I was like in hell, alone, and abandoned,” she said. “To be pregnant and find yourself in a coronavirus ICU is terrible”.
Liberia has recorded some 250 cases to date, with 24 fatalities — a low number compared with virus-stricken Europe and the United States.
But as with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that Liberia is ill-equipped to handle a large outbreak.
The nation of some 4.8 million people was already badly hit during West Africa’s 2014-16 Ebola crisis, which killed more than 4,800 people in Liberia.
Inside the military hospital, Marwolo did not eat for two days out of fear. “I noticed that my baby was no longer moving in my stomach,” she said.
But she found a friend and ally in Harriette Mondaye, a midwife employed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), who counsels pregnant coronavirus patients.
“It was a difficult moment,” Mondaye said, adding that the infected nurse cried every time they spoke on the phone.
There are concerns that pregnant women are particularly vulnerable in the coronavirus crisis.
During the Ebola crisis in Liberia, wary hospitals sometimes refused to take in any patients, leaving some pregnant women to give birth in the street.
To avoid this scenario playing out again, the UNFPA is providing maternity advice in Liberia’s coronavirus hospital, Mondaye said.
Marwolo eventually began to eat again, and was discharged from the coronavirus hospital after 15 days, having recovered.
She then gave birth to baby girl, who did not contract the virus.
But after surviving the ordeal, Marwolo and her family now face the stigma of having had a brush with COVID-19.
Her husband and one of her three children also contracted the disease, and recovered, making the family near-pariahs in her neighbourhood.
“The stigmatisation is another hell for any victim of this virus to go through,” she said.
“It is like a curse. We are even planning to leave the community.”
Marwolo credits her recovery to help from Mondaye, and wants to undertake further studies in order to counsel people in similar positions of distress.
“She encouraged me, she gave me hope,” Marwolo said