Kenema Government Hospital
Nurse Mballu Fonnie works as the Chief Nurse at the Lassa ward of the Kenema Government Hospital. She is a midwife by trade and has been working with Lassa Fever since 1989, when she herself contracted the disease at the Nixon Memorial Hospital in Segbwema when assisting in the delivery of a baby by a woman infected with the virus.
She works with a team of ten nurses and nurse’s aids at the Lassa ward where they adhere to strict safety precautions when working with patients. They are equipped with PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), scrub suits and wear multiple pairs of gloves when handling patients. She's keen to educate other healthcare workers about the advances in personal safety precautions. She explains that because of the measures taken to protect oneself from infection, one is more protected when working with a Lassa patient than when working in the general ward where other lethal diseases such as HIV can be transmitted due to inadequate safety measures.
When talking about her own experience with Lassa Fever, Nurse Fonnie describes how she was initially treated with two rounds of antimalarial drugs. When her symptoms persisted including high fever, vomiting, red eyes and a puffy face, she was eventually tested for Lassa and treated with ribavirin. After a slow recovery she was able to return to work after 3 or 4 months. Two other midwives had died before she herself fell ill, which created a lot of fear among the hospital workers in Segbwema. Nurse Fonnie was asked to take on the responsibility of delivering babies for Lassa patients, as she had survived her own bout of illness and it was believed that she now become immune (in fact there are several strains of Lassa virus, so this may not be the case).
Nurse Fonnie sees her work at the Lassa ward as her way of helping the people of Sierra Leone in battling a disease that represents a huge burden on public health.