Press release

PHE Ebola labs in Sierra Leone making a difference

Three new labs staffed by PHE are now up and running in Sierra Leone, helping to identify new Ebola cases.

PHE staff member outside laboratory building
PHE's Neil Bentley, Head of Specialist Microbiology Technical Services, outside the PHE Port Loko laboratory in Sierra Leone.

Public Health England (PHE) is pleased to announce that 3 new labs are now fully operational in Sierra Leone, adding much needed capacity in critical districts and relieving the bottleneck in testing. Cases can now be identified much more rapidly, which will help to reduce the transmission rate.

The labs opened at the end of last year and are based across the Ebola affected areas of Kerry Town, Port Loko and Makeni. Each lab is staffed by teams of up to 16 scientists, drawing from PHE scientific staff and volunteers from other laboratories.

Prior to these labs being open, testing, diagnosing and isolating Ebola carriers could take 5 or more days. Tests are now being turned around in as little as 24 hours, saving crucial time in helping to distinguish people with Ebola from those who have malaria or other diseases.

The labs, where blood samples and swabs from all over the country are tested for the deadly virus, are part of the UK’s wider response to the Ebola crisis led by the Department for International Development (DFID).

PHE’s focus is now on supporting the WHO’s work to improve sample collection, including supporting the local district Ebola response centres, by providing training on how to take and package good quality samples and deliver them to the laboratory in a timely way to help prevent disease spread.

Dr Tim Brooks, head of PHE’s rare and imported pathogens lab, said:

Previously the affected countries lacked laboratory capacity, emergency operations centers, and disease surveillance systems. Communities were not aware (and some are still not aware) of what Ebola is, or how it is spread.

All of this meant that when the Ebola outbreak hit these countries, it hit harder and spread faster. The successful implementation of these 3 labs will play an important part in helping to turn the tide.

Professor Paul Cosford, director for health protection at PHE, said:

We have robust mechanisms in place for detecting and responding to any unusual infections within the UK, but ultimately the best possible defence will be ensuring the outbreak in West Africa is brought under control.

The successful introduction of the new labs means is a key step to bringing the Ebola outbreak under control, and I thank the PHE staff and other lab volunteers who have worked tirelessly to get these 3 labs up and running.

Notes to editors

  1. A range of the Ebola guidance issued by PHE can be found on the Ebola virus disease: clinical management and guidance page.
  2. Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Website: www.gov.uk/phe, Twitter: @PHE_uk, Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland
  3. The UK is leading the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone by diagnosing and isolating Ebola cases more quickly, trebling the number of treatment beds, supporting burial teams and researching a vaccine.
  4. Halting the disease in West Africa is the single most important way of preventing Ebola from infecting people in the UK. And that is why we have committed over £230 million to the effort. The UK has some of the best public health protection systems in the world and the risk to the UK remains low.

PHE Press Office, infections

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London
NW9 5EQ

Published 14 January 2015