Three new labs staffed by PHE identify new Ebola cases in Sierra Leone

New labs are now fully operational in Sierra Leone, adding much needed capacity in critical districts and relieving the bottleneck in testing

Three new labs staffed by Public Health England (PHE) are now fully operational in Sierra Leone, adding much needed capacity in critical districts and relieving the bottleneck in testing. Cases can now be identified much more rapidly, which will help to reduce the transmission rate.

The labs opened at the end of last year and are based across the Ebola affected areas of Kerry Town, Port Loko and Makeni. Each lab is staffed by teams of up to 16 scientists, drawing from PHE scientific staff and volunteers from other laboratories.

Prior to these labs being open, testing, diagnosing and isolating Ebola carriers could take five or more days. Tests are now being turned around in as little as 24 hours, saving crucial time in helping to distinguish people with Ebola from those who have malaria or other diseases.

The labs, where blood samples and swabs from all over the country are tested for the deadly virus, are part of the UKs wider response to the Ebola crisis led by the Department for International Development (DFID).

PHEs focus is now on supporting the WHOs work to improve sample collection, including supporting the local district Ebola response centres, by providing training on how to take and package good quality samples and deliver them to the laboratory in a timely way to help prevent disease spread.

'Previously the affected countries lacked laboratory capacity, emergency operations centres, and disease surveillance systems. Communities were not aware (and some are still not aware) of what Ebola is, or how it is spread,' said Dr Tim Brooks, head of PHEs rare and imported pathogens lab. 'All of this meant that when the Ebola outbreak hit these countries, it hit harder and spread faster. The successful implementation of these three labs will play an important part in helping to turn the tide.'

Professor Paul Cosford, director for health protection at PHE, commented: 'We have robust mechanisms in place for detecting and responding to any usual infections within the UK, but ultimately the best possible defence will be ensuring the outbreak in West Africa is brought under control. The successful introduction of the new labs means is a key step to bringing the Ebola outbreak under control, and I thank the PHE staff and other lab volunteers who have worked tirelessly to get these three labs up and running.'

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