AN OUTBREAK OF LASSA FEVER CREATED A PASSION FOR PROTECTING PATIENTS AND COLLEAGUES
I first joined Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on a short- term contract. The team needed support to care for patients during the peak season for Lassa fever, a viral hemorrhagic disease.
The year before, in 2018, there was a huge outbreak of Lassa fever here. Many healthcare workers didn’t have access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ended up risking their lives to take care of patients. Some died in the course of their work.
When I was offered a temporary job, I felt skeptical. However, on my first day I saw I had everything I needed to keep myself safe: the scrubs, the boots, the surgical gowns, the coveralls, the masks, the respirators, goggles.
I said to myself, “For the fact that I’m going to stay protected, then nothing is going to stop me from rendering this care to these persons that are sick.”
I had never worked anywhere before where healthcare was provided free of charge. Instead, patients and their families have to pay for this, they have to buy that. When they don’t bring the money, you don’t treat them. This means as a nurse, you have two options: spend your personal money to take care of them or watch them suffer.
But for that four months in the MSF Lassa fever project, I was able to do everything I wanted for my patients. I had PPE. I had access to medication. If I saw my patient was wearing a long face, I could talk to the mental health counsellors and they would give their support. My patients had basically everything they needed. It made me really, really happy.
But when the peak season ended, our short-term contracts ended with it. I made a decision that this was the only kind of nursing job I wanted: where my patients don’t have to suffer because they don’t have money. The passion was just ignited in me.
A NEW CHALLENGE
I started looking for jobs with MSF. Any adverts I saw, I applied. I even applied to be a cleaner, that was how much I wanted to be part of MSF. At last, I got a nursing job in northern Nigeria, at an MSF hospital for people displaced by conflict. A different kind of challenge. But my experience with Lassa fever had developed a deep consciousness of infection control in me, I had seen how it could save lives and I wanted to learn more.
I started doing online courses. In February 2020, I applied for the role of infection prevention and control supervisor back in the Lassa fever project, where my MSF journey had started.
I got the job.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PREVENTION
In our project, the health promotion teams are out in the community sharing information about how people can avoid Lassa fever. Meanwhile, I work to ensure the virus doesn’t spread within the hospital.
There’s not enough research into Lassa fever, which means that diagnosis is still difficult and the treatments we have are adapted from other viruses. To me that makes preventing infections even more important.
I put things in place to prevent accidental exposure among the staff and if a staff member gets exposed, then I also ensure they are monitored and get a post-exposure prophylaxis if needed. Since MSF’s intervention to the crisis in 2019, no staff member has died from Lassa fever here.
We make sure everyone who works at the centre is trained and retrained and trained again. I ensure cleaning and decontaminations are up to standard, and PPE is available.
I love my job. I have the laboratory. I have the laundry. I have the central sterilization unit. I’m in everybody’s business. I work with the medical team, the health promotion team, the environmental health team, the construction team.
It’s one thing to treat infection but it’s another thing to prevent it. If it is preventa- ble, then that’s what we try to do.