Johannesburg, South Africa – It was going to be a nice way to welcome her new baby into the world – alongside her South African family, whom she had last seen 16 years ago.
But the young Guinean mother’s dreams were quickly shattered when staff at a local maternity hospital in Johannesburg leaked inaccurate information that she had contracted Ebola. Doctors and nurses refused to touch her or feed her and kept her in isolation even after she was tested negative.
During her entire childbirth experience, she had none of her loved ones around her as she had planned.
The woman agreed to recount, for the first time to Al Jazeera, her bittersweet tale of a reunion marred by unprofessional healthcare workers.
She has asked not be named for her safety and that of her husband and three other children, who still need to travel back to Guinea once she has recovered from childbirth.
“The worst part is that after everything no one from the hospital has come to me and apologised for the incorrect information going out about me prematurely,” said the woman, as she cradled her tiny newborn girl, wrapped in layers of blankets to shield her from the cold weather that has hit the city.
“I knew I did not have Ebola. I did not even have the symptoms,” she told Al Jazeera.
Within one day of the woman’s admission to the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital in South Africa’s most populous city last week, news spread that a pregnant Guinean woman at the hospital was South Africa’s first suspected Ebola case.
South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi later dismissed the rumour, saying it was mischievous. But the damage had been done.
South Africa has identified Guinea along with Liberia and Sierra Leone as high-risk countries, instituting a travel ban on non-residents from the country.
In its latest update on the virus, the World Health Organization said the total number of probable, confirmed and suspected cases in the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa was 3,685, with 1,841 deaths, as of August 31.
I did not know what was happening. Initially the doctor communicated with me through the door. When I called for him, he would say, 'wait I'm busy, I'll come to you in 10 minutes.'
But for the woman who had undergone Ebola tests and airport checks before leaving Guinea with her husband and three children on July 28, and another set of tests at OR Tambo International Airport when she arrived in Johannesburg, the Ebola panic has resulted in a nightmare.
She explained that in Guinea when the news of the outbreak first came out, the company for which she works took all the precautions, educating them about Ebola, its symptoms and how to deal with it.
“We all got the Ebola kit, so that we won’t get Ebola, so I was quite confident that I didn’t have Ebola,” she told Al Jazeera.
Sixteen years ago, as a young Muslim girl, the Guinean woman lived in Johannesburg.
“I was here for a year with my mother who was also here on a medical visit at the time. I was 13 years old. We lived in Johannesburg with my mother’s brothers,” the woman explained.
A social worker who she calls “aunt Ayesha” lived across the road and befriended her family.
She never forgot about Ayesha and the kindness she showed her. She wrote letters to South Africa, which would take up to two months to arrive at its destination.
She finished her schooling, eventually studying business administration. And in 2009, she got married to a man she had been dating for five months.
The woman had told her husband about her family in South Africa and her dream of coming to see them. She and her husband applied for a two-month visa but they were only given 30 days.
All was going relatively well until the woman went unexpectedly into labour. They took her to the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, a government hospital.
Although she told the doctor she had been tested for Ebola and had the test results, once the doctor realised she was from Guinea, he immediately closed the curtains around her hospital bed, masked himself and told no one to go close to her.
“I did not know what was happening. Initially the doctor communicated with me through the door. When I called for him, he would say, ‘Wait I’m busy, I’ll come to you in 10 minutes.'”
Just before her cell phone’s battery went down, her husband called and said they had heard over the news that she had Ebola.
That, however, was the last contact she had with her husband.
Later that night she was informed that she would have to undergo a Caesarian as her baby’s heart beat was faint – but this would only take place if her Ebola test results were negative.
A second blood test was done, confirming that she was negative, but her trouble did not stop there.
She recalls how the nurses did not want to touch her.
“The doctors had to push me to the theatre as no nurse wanted to touch me,” she said. “In the theatre, when the doctors called out to the matrons to bring materials, no one wanted to come. Only one nurse came and said that no one wants to come up because they don’t want to die.”
According to the woman, the doctor went down and told other nurses that the test results were negative and they had nothing to fear, but they allegedly said they still did not want to die.
When the procedure was complete, none of nurses wanted to push her back to her ward. The hospital staffer who eventually did, first masked himself and then her. He did not get into the lift with her. Instead he took the staircase and met her on the desired floor.
She is more than welcome to come to my office to report the treatment. I would need to investigate it as I cannot accept what you are saying. It is a one-sided story.
“Before the results, you can understand they were taking some security measures. But once the results were out I expected them to be more professional,” she said.
“It was difficult and frightening for me. I was in pain but no one really wanted to help me.”
Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital Chief Executive Susan Jordaan said she had not been aware of the treatment the woman received as it had not been reported to her.
She urged that the woman report the matter so that it can be investigated.
“She is more than welcome to come to my office to report the treatment. I would need to investigate it as I cannot accept what you are saying. It is a one-sided story,” Jordaan told Al Jazeera.
Should the nurses be found to have acted in an unprofessional manner, they would face disciplinary action, said Jordaan.
Efforts to contact several staff members at the hospital to confirm the treatment the woman received proved fruitless with one staffer refusing to speak, citing patient confidentiality.
The experience has left her sad.
“It made me regret coming to South Africa. What keeps me going is knowing that there are wonderful people who are here with me,” she said.
National Department of Health spokesman, Popo Maja, said it was unfortunate that the woman received such treatment but the fear of healthcare workers are reasonable as most of the Ebola related deaths in West Africa were of healthcare workers.
He said their reaction showed that the department needed to intensify their Ebola education.