Britain is to send more expert medical staff to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to deal with the growing Ebola outbreak, Sky News can reveal. Two teams of staff are expected to be sent to the worst-affected areas as the DRC struggles to cope with its biggest outbreak to date.
One team will analyse the existing cases to work out how and where the disease spreading.
Another will try out new experimental treatments in the hope that they will help bring the outbreak under control.
Sky News reported last week on how doctors were becoming overwhelmed by the number of cases in Beni, North Kivu, close to the border with Uganda, and struggling to convince many people affected to seek help.
Their efforts are hampered by suspicions in the superstitious community that a new vaccine that could help victims and their contacts is
So far, at least 329 people have been diagnosed and 205 of those have died, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation.
Prof Daniel Bausch, the director of UK Public Health’s rapid support team for Ebola and a senior figure in organising the UK’s response to the outbreak in West Africa in 2014-16, told Sky News: “We sent a senior epidemiologist for a rapid assessment mission a few months ago, when things started. We’ve just sent him back.
“We are gearing up to send two teams after that. One is a laboratory team to help with sequencing the virus to better understand where the cases are coming from.
“And the other is a team to work on some of the therapeutic trials that are being set up to test whether new drugs are efficacious for Ebola.
“We have a number of experimental therapies on Ebola that have been developed. The only way to know if they work is to set up therapeutic trials, testing these drugs in the field.
“We have people who are experts in those sorts of clinical trials.”.
According to o Sky, he said he was expecting both teams to be in place by the end of this week.
The laboratory team would be a team of six people, with the clinical trial team consisting initially of two people.
Once on the ground, they will team up with personnel from different institutions from WHO and US national institutes of health, starting off in Kinshasa, before moving on to Beni if the situation is safe.
All are UK-based experts, from a combination of UK academic institutions and Public Health England..
On Sunday, the DRC’s health ministry said the outbreak was now the worst in the country’s recorded history.
It is the Congo’s 10th outbreak since 1976, when the virus was first identified.
Doctors attempting to treat those infected are having to work in a setting where the risk of violence is ever-present, as armed groups vie for control in the relatively lawless but mineral-rich region.
The country’s health minister Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga said: “No other epidemic in the world has been as complex as the one we are currently experiencing.
“Since their arrival in the region, the response teams have faced threats, physical assaults, repeated destruction of their equipment, and kidnapping.
“Two of our colleagues in the rapid response medical unit even lost their lives in an attack.