School researchers awarded new funding to strengthen Ebola response

The UK's Department for International Development and the Wellcome Trust have together announced £1.34 million funding for five research programmes, two of which are led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, to improve evidence and understanding Ebola and help combat the outbreak in West Africa.

An online resource to help health workers work more effectively with local communities, the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform, is led by Dr Melissa Parker with colleagues at the School and partners at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex and the University of Exeter.

The project will help staff communicate health messages effectively, assess the acceptability of drug trials to people in West Africa, support the modification of funeral practices in Sierra Leone to improve safety, and develop home nursing guidelines.

Dr Melissa Parker, Reader in Medical Anthropology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "This funding has enabled us to establish a platform which draws together an international network of anthropologists with expertise in West Africa and medical anthropology. Working closely with communities in the affected areas, we will advise agencies and healthcare workers on the best approaches to identifying and diagnosing Ebola cases, caring for the sick, and managing the dead. Ensuring these interventions are adapted to local circumstances will increase their effectiveness and help bring this terrible Ebola epidemic under control."

Professor John Edmunds and his team at the School's Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases will be funded to model possible scenarios for the future of the outbreak, and assess the level of response, including healthcare facilities, that may be needed to cope with different scenarios. They are undertaking statistical modelling to analyse data collected by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF in West Africa to look at how many cases and deaths from Ebola might be expected over time.

John Edmunds, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "In order to find the most effective ways to bring this complex and devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa to an end, we need to understand the numbers behind the outbreak. This funding will support our work to develop and apply mathematical models looking at data such as case numbers, the rate of new infections and projections of how the virus will spread, so we can plan interventions that will save the most lives."

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "I have seen for myself in Sierra Leone the devastation that Ebola can cause. The UK has taken the lead in tackling this outbreak in Sierra Leone. The first of six British-built treatment centres is now open and British funding is trebling the number of treatment beds, supporting burial teams, researching a vaccine and providing vital supplies for thousands of health workers. These ground-breaking new research projects have the potential to transform understanding of the disease."

Other projects focus on the development of improved diagnostic tools to strengthening surveillance and protecting health workers, and are led by the University of Westminster, the University of Oxford and the International Rescue Committee. The funding for the five projects has been made available from an existing £6.5 million research initiative, Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC), which is jointly funded by DFID and the Wellcome Trust.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust said: "Up until now, support for the Ebola outbreak has focused on improving public health measures by increasing facilities and equipment, and fast tracking vaccine and drug trials. However, without knowledge and understanding of local communities this life-saving work can often fail. This funding will address that gap by training medical staff to engage effectively with local people about key issues, improving diagnostic tests and providing predictive mapping of the spread of the disease."

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