Page 3 Profile: Cokie Van der Velde, sanitation expert


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The Independent Online

Dangerous work

Cokie has left her family in Yorkshire for the second time this year to fly to save lives at an Ebola unit in Guinea. She spends her days wrapped up in scrubs, a full body suit, goggles, two pairs of gloves and a mask.


The highly contagious and incurable virus. Everyday tasks for Ms van der Velde, 54, include taking sick patients to the unit, disinfecting houses and developing isolation and prevention techniques. Her outfit is crucial – even contact with one millimetre of skin can prove fatal if she catches the virus.

How does she stay sane?

She's a tough cookie, being a veteran of Médecins Sans Frontières for more than 12 years, but creature comforts include her favourite moisturiser. She listens to The Archers and regularly talks to her three grandchildren.

Is it worth it?

Isolation and antibiotics are bringing down mortality rates stemming from the Ebola outbreak from 90 per cent to 60 per cent. “I miss my grandchildren a great deal,” Ms van der Velde says. “But I do believe in the principle of humanitarian aid and that when poor nations need healthcare, the rich should rise to the challenge. When the call comes, I go.”