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UK Public Health Rapid Support Team deploys more experts to support Ebola outbreak response

Caption: Community representatives visit family in Beni. Credit: World Bank/Vincent Tremeau

Public health specialists from the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (UK-PHRST) are supporting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to tackle the country’s Ebola outbreak as it reaches the one-year mark.

Those deploying to the country include a data scientist, an expert in tracking outbreaks (epidemiologist), and an infection and prevention control expert who will work with local scientists. The deployment is at the request of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network following the recent decision to declare the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The UK-PHRST is a partnership between by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Public Health England, and funded by UK Aid from the Department of Health and Social Care. The team can rapidly deploy public health experts at 48 hours’ notice to strengthen a country’s response to outbreaks, stopping the spread of disease and saving lives.

The team has worked closely with the DRC government, WHO and other partners to scale up its response since August 2018 when the current outbreak started. Their work is vital to help track the spread of disease and inform the best approaches to tackling it.

Since it was established in 2016, the UK-PHRST has responded to ten global outbreaks, including Lassa fever in Nigeria, diphtheria in the displaced Rohingya population in Bangladesh, and pneumonic and bubonic plague in Madagascar.

Professor Daniel Bausch, Director of the UK-PHRST said: “The Congolese people continue to show great resilience in the face of this outbreak. However, this is the worst Ebola outbreak in its history and its effects are devastating, with hundreds of lives lost. We are assisting the DRC government to help them build on their response and will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide all the technical support we can.”

International Development Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Ebola has already taken far too many lives in the DRC. Shockingly it has wiped out entire families and, a year after this outbreak started, it is showing no sign of slowing down.

“The UK has led the way in tackling this killer disease and we can be proud of our support to create a life-saving Ebola vaccine which has inoculated 180,000 people so far. Today’s announcement that more UK health experts will be deployed to the DRC shows our strong, ongoing commitment to contain the outbreak.

“Diseases like Ebola have no respect for borders. This could spread beyond DRC. It is essential the rest of the international community steps up to help. If we don’t act now, many thousands more lives could be lost.”

The UK-PHRST continually monitors infectious diseases and other hazards globally, identifying situations where specialist expertise could prevent these threats from turning into global outbreaks. The team also conducts innovative research to improve epidemic preparedness and response, and supports countries to build national capacity to respond to outbreaks.