Catherine Fonnie

Taking control of a frightening outbreak

Catherine Fonnie, RN
Rokupa Government Hospital
Freetown, Sierra Leone

Catherine Fonnie demonstrated exemplary initiative, leadership and resourcefulness to help her hospital battle the 2014 Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Fonnie’s dedication reduced the spread of this frightening disease among patients and healthcare workers, and established a foundation of infection prevention standards for her hospital moving forward.

As part of a World Health Organization-led infection prevention and control team, Fonnie took on the role of infection prevention lead, emphasizing measures to prevent cross-contamination, daily checklist implementation, and regular evaluation.

“Losing several of my colleagues during the Ebola outbreak really enhanced my interest in infection prevention and control,” said Fonnie. “I realized that I have the ability to break the chain of transmission. I focused on eliminating fear and finding the way forward.”

Working in a highly stressful and resource-poor situation, Fonnie determined that staff training was paramount to controlling the outbreak within her hospital. To reduce cross-contamination between patients and nosocomial acquisition of the virus, she helped train 60 healthcare and cleaning staff in the donning and doffing of lifesaving personal protective equipment, as well as the importance of maintaining adequate supplies and disinfectants. She also leveraged knowledge she had acquired during prior infectious outbreaks and from a three-day infection prevention training course to train staff on the delivery of effective, safe patient care.

“Ms. Fonnie worked tirelessly and selflessly to bring about improvements in infection prevention and control practices,” said Dr. Lousie Berry, a member of the WHO-led team. “She stepped up immediately to provide mentorship to staff and real empathy for her patients.”

Fonnie’s efforts improved the standard of patient care at her hospital going forward and enabled nursing staff to carry out their work in a much more controlled, safe environment. Fonnie now plans to share her training program with local hospitals, schools, universities, marketplaces, churches, and mosques.