Ebola: Creating Safe Zones

This week we look at the Ebola crisis from a new angle. We speak to water & sanitation specialist Cokie van der Velde from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) about limiting the spread of the epidemic.

‘I was creating safe zones where people could get treated and the team could work. I had to ensure protocols were adhered to, but first to make sure they worked. Many activities had no protocols, so we set about writing them.’

In the 21st century it is common to switch professions. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) attracts many from other professions to support front line doctors and nurses. Cokie van der Velde got a first degree in biology and a PGCE in science education. After years in teaching she began as an administrator with MSF organising the delivery of goods, transport and staff. She then trained as a water and sanitation specialist.

‘At first we didn’t think it necessary to wear personal protection equipment (PPE) in the triage area, where people were being assessed before being let into the treatment centre. When one of our nurses caught Ebola we had to change the system to include a pre triage area. Triage is a difficult issue. In Monrovia there were so many sick people waiting at our gates. People were frightened; they wanted to be tested even when they didn’t have symptoms. Some would find out the admission criteria and tell us they fitted them to get tested. It’s understandable, but it stretched our resources further still.’

‘To test the protocols I have to do all the jobs our staff do at least once, so cleaning the floors and taking out bodies wearing full PPE to experience the heavy and hot conditions to see if it’s too exhausting or difficult. Shifting one or two bodies may be ok, but at times we had 20 deaths a day. Staff can be frightened so I test the equipment to give them confidence and show I’m not scared, even if I am.’

Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN

First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 20 March 2015


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