News story

PHE deploys over 100 staff members to fight Ebola in West Africa

Public Health England (PHE) has now deployed over 100 experts to assist the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

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The latest team of scientists deployed to Sierra Leone in February brought the total of PHE staff members who have worked in the affected areas to 111.

While the bulk of PHE deployment has involved staffing 3 labs in Sierra Leone, 19 staff members have been deployed to support European Mobile labs in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, while another 7 staff members have worked with the World Health Organisation ‘Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network’.

Closer to home, it’s estimated another 400 PHE staff have been involved in monitoring the health of returning Ebola workers, managing the screening process at airports, stations and ports across the UK, and tracing contacts of UK Ebola cases.

PHE scientists at Porton have run 178 Ebola tests on suspected viral haemorrhagic fever cases in the UK, while research colleagues continue to investigate new diagnostic and treatment options.

Professor Paul Cosford, PHE’s Director for Health Protection and Medical Director, who visited Sierra Leone in January, said:

We at PHE have a commitment to protecting the nation’s health and wellbeing, and ultimately the best way to protect the UK public will be to help bring the outbreak under control at its source.

It’s very easy to talk about commitments, but on my recent visit to Sierra Leone I witnessed first-hand the dedication and professionalism of Public Health England staff. The effort involved testing in the field, to tracing contacts of UK cases, to researching new vaccines and treatment has been nothing short of immense.

Dr Tim Brooks heads up the 3 labs in Sierra Leone, and recently returned from his third deployment. He said:

While there have been some indications that the outbreak is potentially on the decline, our work will not finish until the outbreak is under control.

The successful implementation of 3 labs within Sierra Leone has played an important part in helping to turn the tide, and I’m grateful to the PHE staff and volunteers from the NHS, Universities and other laboratories who have helped staff these labs and will be involved in helping establish a legacy of local trained staff who can support the foundation of a more resilient laboratory network for infectious diseases in Sierra Leone.

Neil Bentley, PHE’s Head of Specialist Microbiology Technical Services, helped to set up the 3 Ebola laboratories in Sierra Leone and has been deployed twice. He said:

The PHE labs are seen as the gold standard out there and provide an extended day 7 day diagnostic service. This meant our presence reduced sample turnaround time from about 4 to 5 days to less than 24 hours, having a direct impact on patient care, and ultimately reducing the amount of people contracting disease.

The second time I was out there involved extensive travel to often remote locations at community holding and treatment centres, train and educate on sample collection, transport and result reporting, which was particularly.

Published 26 March 2015