Margaret Mojisola Ayorinde
Over the span of her two-decade career, Mrs. Margaret Mojisola Ayorinde has consistently made meaningful contributions to the field of nursing across West Africa. She has worked in countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and has played an important role in helping to treat and stop the spread of diseases including COVID-19, Lassa fever, and Ebola. Currently, Mrs. Ayorinde is the Assistant Director for Nursing Services and Matron in Charge of the Isolation Ward, Infectious Diseases Unit, at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in Nigeria. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Mrs. Ayorinde has also worked with both the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) to help respond to COVID-19 and organize relief efforts. Working directly with the Lagos State COVID-19 response team, Mrs. Ayorinde has served on the frontlines, training health care workers and keeping them up to date on COVID-19 protection and prevention measures, monitoring infectious disease control procedures in the hospital, and sharing best practices in patient care. An accomplished and dedicated health care professional, Mrs. Ayorinde is equally admired for her bedside manner–looking after individual patients, connecting with their families, and providing spiritual and emotional comfort and strength, along with superb nursing care.
We recently interviewed Mrs. Ayorinde about her work as part of our “Spotlight a COVID-19 Heroine” initiative, which highlights African women who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and dedication to their communities through their COVID-19 response efforts.
Read our interview with Mrs. Ayorinde below.
Q: Could you please introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about your background and what you currently do?
My name is Margaret Mojisola Ayorinde, and I work as an Infection Control Nurse at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Lagos, Nigeria. I’m also a member of the Infection Control Africa Network, which is headquartered in South Africa. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have also been working with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and with the Africa CDC to help raise awareness and combat the spread of the virus. I worked with the Africa CDC during the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015 as well, when I was deployed to work in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and eventually in Abakaliki, in South East Nigeria, as part of a contingent that was sent to contain the Ebola virus. Since April 2020, my main focus has been on COVID-19 infection control and response, so that’s what I do, for now.
Q: What was your experience like working as a nurse during the Ebola outbreak, and was your experience able to better prepare you for what to expect during the fight against COVID-19?
Ebola was scary—nobody wanted to die. During my assignment to Liberia during the Ebola outbreak, my contingent of 20 nurses from Nigeria were sent to Liberia, but I was the only one assigned to Monrovia.
During this time, I learned that support and collaboration are very key for those of us working in health care and humanitarian services. This support and collaboration gives us the strength we need to keep going, and to encourage people who are battling illnesses themselves. I was lucky to have the support of my faith, and of my husband, who is a pastor.
While I was stationed in Liberia, my contingent and I also were able to meet with former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf face-to-face, and she gave us information about the Ebola outbreak in Monrovia, about ops support, and about what we could do. It was inspiring to see Madam Sirleaf and hear her words of encouragement and support.
Q: You have been working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, where you are not only an Infection Control Nurse, you are also Matron in Charge of the Isolation Ward of the Infectious Diseases Unit. Working throughout the pandemic must have been immensely challenging. Could you talk about your experience?
It’s been a really trying time for me personally. The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Nigeria in March, and at that time it was a novel virus nobody really knew anything about, other than that it was an airborne disease and it was highly infectious. Because of the training I had, and my prior experience, I had courage, but the challenge that lay ahead was still really intimidating. I have a family, and my younger children were saying, “Mommy, you can fight this disease, we know you can do it.” But my eldest child, who is 16 years old—she was just crying. She was saying, “Mommy, Mommy, don’t go!” But my husband supported me, and he talked to our children and helped them understand the situation.
During the early days of the pandemic in Nigeria, Infection Control Nurses and other health care workers were given temporary accommodation as we were required to live away from our homes. At first, that was really challenging because with the lockdown, nobody could visit me, and I was cut off from my family. That was a hard time for me—even sleeping then was difficult.
In order to have enough staff at the hospital, we began training nursing students from colleges so that they could support the nurses who were already working. It was my job to oversee and deliver this training, and to make sure that all staff were kept up to date on COVID-19 protection and prevention measures. This was also a really difficult time. I had to train, and train, and train—a lot of my time went into this training, even though, as Matron in Charge of the Infectious Diseases Unit, my team was already short-staffed. Part of my job was also to ensure that everyone was working efficiently and effectively as a team, and this was difficult since we had workers who were stepping into these roles for the first time, and many of them were physically and emotionally overwhelmed. It was an incredibly challenging time for me, and on many days, I had to work 18, sometimes 22, hours. I was very overworked. But now, thankfully, I see that our staff’s courage has really grown and developed, and even newer workers are able to go about their jobs efficiently without my supervision.
Q: That sounds unbelievably challenging—how did you manage to stay energized, and what kept you going throughout this time?
My daily routine, when I wake up, is to pray first thing in the morning. My husband makes sure that this is a point of duty for me, and he calls me to remind me, sometimes as early as 6:00 AM. During my workday, I always make sure to take my break. I always take some time off duty to take a stroll, fiddle with my phone, read, or just lie down. And then I come back. During the hardest times, my routine and taking these short periods of time for myself is how I was able to cope.
Q: In addition to your work at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, and with the Africa CDC, you manage to find time to be actively involved in volunteer work. Can you talk a bit about the work you do as a volunteer?
Initially, when COVID-19 came to Nigeria, a pastor who was visiting from outside of Nigeria tested positive for COVID-19. Once this pastor had been transferred into isolation, the church called on me to come in and deliver training to their staff and congregation on COVID-19 prevention measures. So, I came in and helped properly decontaminate the church, and then subsequently held a number of lectures, demonstrations, and Q&A sessions, during which I gave staff and members of the congregation information and training to keep themselves safe. Overall, over the course of these sessions, I think we were able to reach around 5,000 people. An important part of this training also involved building up people’s strength and courage, by talking to them and giving them support and words of encouragement, which I still continue to do. I was recently at the church on a Saturday and was meant to stay for two hours but ended up staying for five. Speaking with everyone was really quite interesting.
Q: Among the several COVID-19 Heroine nominations you received from friends and colleagues, many of them emphasized your ability to build human connections with patients, providing them with emotional strength and support in addition to medical care. Could you talk about some of the ways you were able to offer your support to patients and their families during COVID-19?
I think taking care of patients goes beyond treating them physically—it also involves providing support emotionally. Whenever I can, I try to give support to anyone whose family member or loved one is in isolation. I try to get to know the families, to get an insight into their beliefs and their background, so as to be able to speak to them in encouraging ways. I also collect phone numbers and call family members from patients’ isolation rooms so that they can speak to each other, because I know the benefit of maintaining this connection, especially while in isolation. And, so far so good, I think this approach helps—the mortality rate of COVID-19 in Lagos has been relatively low.
Q: From your professional perspective, is there anything you would like to share, or that you want people to know, with respect to COVID-19 in Nigeria or more broadly?
I would like to say that the practical training of health care workers should not be left until there is another outbreak or another public health crisis. And, I believe that all health care workers—doctors, nurses, microbiologists, scientists—should have a basic knowledge and understanding of infection control protocols. It should be inculcated right from school. During the pandemic, I was answering questions from health care workers, who were asking things like, “What is PPE?”, “What is the full meaning of IPC [Infection Prevention and Control]?” I began to wonder why they didn’t know these things.
In terms of funding, I also think that, in Nigeria, we need to finance more facilities that have isolation rooms. As it currently stands, most health care facilities in Nigeria do not have an isolation room, even though we are faced with infectious diseases other than COVID-19, like tuberculosis, measles, and chicken pox. Having more isolation rooms as part of our health care facilities would really help curb the spread of these diseases among the population, and this would in turn make the jobs of our health care workers more manageable.
Finally, what I really want people to know is that COVID-19 still remains a threat. We need to be on our toes, staying alert, and we should always have our three W’s in mind: watch your distance of two meters, wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, and wear your mask when you are in public.