School staff and alumni: on the Ebola frontline

Since the Ebola outbreak was first reported in March 2014, hundreds of UK medical professionals have travelled to West Africa to help with efforts to combat the Ebola virus and treat those with the disease. They include a number of staff, students and alumni from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. We spoke to staff and alumni from the School about their experiences of working with Ebola control efforts in Africa, as well as closer to home in London.

Claire Ferraro running the London Marathon

Claire Ferraro running the London Marathon

Dr Claire Ferraro

Claire studied Control of Infectious Diseases at the School from 2010-11 as an intercalated year out of her medical degree. Between December 2014 and April 2015 she volunteered with the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership (KSLP), a long-term health system strengthening partnership in Freetown, Sierra Leone. She worked as a doctor in the Ebola Holding Unit at Connaught Hospital, Freetown, but also became increasingly involved in non-Ebola projects such as helping to establish the National Infection Prevention & Control Programme. Claire completed the London Marathon on 26th April this year, dressed in PPE (personal protection equipment) for the first 10km in order to raise awareness of the on-going direct and indirect impact of Ebola on health services in Sierra Leone. Together with two other volunteers Claire raised over £15,000 for KSLP.

Ebola Neighbourhood Watch training

Ebola Neighbourhood Watch training in Madina

Dr Veronica Sawicki

Veronica completed her Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene at the School in 2010. She first visited Sierra Leone eight years ago and since then has spent approximately three months of each year working in the small town of Madina in the north-east of the country, where she and her husband have set up a charity which aims to improve the health and well-being of the community. More recently they have been involved in a number of new projects such as an Ebola Neighbourhood Watch, where trained local volunteers visit villages and homes to provide information about Ebola as well as advice about hygiene, safe burial practices and the avoidance of traditional healers. The charity has also been supporting a educational project which has provided radio education for more than 5,000 children. This is especially needed as, due to the Ebola outbreak, schools in the area have been closed for almost a year, pushing up numbers of teenage pregnancy and prostitution. Read more about Veronica’s work in Madina here.

A nurse working in the Ebola isolation unit in Freetown

Dr Tom Boyles

Tom, who was involved in course writing and examining for the School in 2014, is a consultant at Cape Town’s main teaching hospital. He volunteered in Freetown, Sierra Leone in November and December 2014. Tom says the most difficult part of his work was deciding “which patients to choose to isolate … there are more patients needing isolation than there are beds available and somehow we have to decide who is admitted. Choosing one patient over another under these circumstances has got to be the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make as a doctor or a human being.” Read more in Tom’s blog.

A screening tent outside a hospital in Freetown

A screening tent outside a hospital in Freetown

Dr Felicity Fitzgerald

Felicity qualified as a paediatrician in 2006 and graduated from the School with an MSc in Infectious Diseases in 2010. She is currently studying for a PhD in Infectious Diseases at the UCL Institute of Child Health.  She also volunteered for the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, from November 2014 to February 2015, and has been blogging about her experiences in the Telegraph. Felicity writes of her surprise at the level of responsibility local junior doctors have had to take on in the Ebola crisis. She met Dr Mohammed Boi Jalloh, who, despite working as a House Officer – the most junior of medical posts – as recently as June 2014, was, just three months later, supervising the opening of an RSLAF Ebola Treatment Centre. Felicity admits that, if as a House Officer, “I had been asked to take on even a fraction of the burden these [doctors] have carried, I expect I’d have been sick in a corner and run away … They are now amongst the most experienced Ebola physicians in the world, with neither the fanfare nor the back-slapping the international volunteers have had.”

James Whitehorn

James Whitehorn 

James, a Clinical Research Fellow at the School, worked as a Clinical Advisor at the Kerry Town Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone in early 2015. James was part of a team providing medical care to confirmed and suspected Ebola patients. James says: “At times the experience was harrowing, but I am very glad I went. I was there from January to February and there is no doubt that things were quieter than they had been, but we were still seeing significant numbers of cases. In addition, we were seeing more patients who met the case definition but did not have Ebola (they had things like malaria and typhoid).”

And back in London: Rebecca Glover

“I’m not in Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia and I do nothing with patients, fluids or medics,” explains Rebecca, who has an MSc in the Control of Infectious Diseases from the School. That doesn’t mean that she isn’t helping with Ebola control efforts. In her first role since graduating, Rebecca works for the School’s Ebola team at the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases (CMMID), which contributes to the global Ebola information base. Her responsibilities range from working on the Janssen Ebola vaccine trial, inputting data from the Guinean Ministry of Health and carrying out qualitative and quantitative research into community resistance in Guinea, which can include physical or verbal attacks, threats, or other forms of non-compliance with Ebola outbreak response teams. Rebecca will soon be heading out to Sierra Leone to carry out data collection and collation. Read more about the work of CMMID here.

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