“At the moment, we have people hanging around in large numbers in treatment
centres, and the quicker we can get people tested, the quicker the ones that
turn out to be negative can be moved on their way, and the less their
chances they will have of being infected.”
The labs will also allow quicker testing on the bodies of those who have died
before reaching treatment centres. At present, many are simply buried before
testing is carried out – meaning their families have no way of knowing
whether they too are at risk from the virus.
Britain has far pledged some £225 million to the fight against Ebola in Sierra
Leone, a former colony.
That includes support for 700 Ebola treatment beds which will provide direct
medical care up to 8,800 patients over six months, funding for burial teams,
and up to 200 new community care centres.
Around 800 Ministry of Defence personnel are also helping out, and hundreds of
NHS volunteers are expected to arrive in coming weeks.
Last week, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel, RFA Argus, also docked in the
Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, equipped with offroad vehicles and
helicopters that are being used to reach isolated rural areas.
“The terrain is a real challenge, as is the climate,” said Captain David
Eagles, the Argus’s commanding officer. “Aircraft engines like thick, cold
air not hot humid conditions, but we are managing.”
Dr Tim Brooks, an ex-army physician who is now leading a team from Public
Health England out in Sierra Leone, said awareness of the dangers of Ebola
was now well established in urban areas, but that work still needed to be
done in smaller rural areas.
“There has been a huge mobilisation of govt and international resources, and
as you drive around Sierra Leone there are warning signs about Ebola
everywhere, but there are still isolated rural areas where there are pockets
of Ebola denial.”
Over the next few days and weeks around 50 volunteers will arrive to form the
lab technician team, joining from Public Health England, universities, the
NHS and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: “Some of Britain’s
best and brightest scientists will be at the forefront of our UK-funded
testing facilities, ensuring that people with Ebola are isolated and then
treated as soon as possible.”