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Rapid response on behalf of the Australian Government saves lives in Sierra Leone and leads to maintaining a presence in-country on behalf of the UK Government

PROJECT

Ebola Response in Sierra Leone 

Sectors

I congratulate Aspen Medical for its professionalism in managing Australia’s Ebola Treatment Centre and thank the dedicated healthcare workers who delivered Australia’s contribution.

The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Foreign Minister.

BACKGROUND

On 5 November 2014, the Prime Minister announced that Australia would increase its contribution to the global fight against Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). This response involved commissioning and managing an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC), constructed by the UK Government in Sierra Leone. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) chose Aspen Medical to manage the ETC.

Within 24 hours of the announcement, Aspen Medical established a Project Management Office in Canberra and launched a volunteer applications webpage and dedicated LinkedIn page. Within 72 hours, an advance party was deployed to Freetown in Sierra Leone to gather intelligence and to liaise with key stakeholders. Over the following five days, Aspen Medical deployed a management and logistics team into Sierra Leone and a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Subject Matter Expert to the UK to ensure that all training and procedures aligned with World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) guidelines.

Within a fortnight of the engagement, the Aspen Medical Project Management Team had selected the first multidisciplinary health team to deploy to Sierra Leone.  This first cohort of health professionals was invited to Canberra to undertake pre-deployment training. Their suitability was assessed, and deployment details finalised. This training program was developed by Aspen Medical and incorporated clinical and non-clinical aspects. The non-clinical aspects included sessions around cultural orientation, safety and security, appropriate use of social media and personal administration matters. Clinical training incorporated modules on the epidemiology of the disease through to practical lessons on the correct use of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE). 

In all, 73 Australian and New Zealand nationals underwent pre-deployment training with Aspen Medical prior to departing for Sierra Leone. Members of the first deployed team undertook a ‘Train the trainer’ course with MSF in Sierra Leone. On completion of that initial and one-off course, the Australian-managed ETC became self-sufficient.

The ETC became operational on schedule on 14 December 2014. This coincided with the opening of a number of other ETCs across Sierra Leone.  This surge in ETCs supported the containment and reduction of the epidemic.

In total, the ETC admitted 216 patients. Whilst not all were diagnosed with Ebola they presented with symptoms consistent with the early onset of the disease. Other diseases including malaria, Lassa fever, HIV and gastroenteritis were treated and the patients supported to full recovery. The Australian-managed ETC accepted all patients exhibiting EVD-type symptoms.  In addition to the Ebola survivors, the clinic contributed to the treatment of 120 survivors of serious conditions other than Ebola.

Ebola has become known as the ‘Carer’s Disease’ due to the high rate of infection in health professionals. Consequently, Aspen Medical is particularly proud of the fact that a large team consisting of 73 Australian and NZ HPs, supported by a team of over 250 locals, recorded a zero infection rate.

Australian Government response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone concluded on 30 April 2015.

Those who volunteered to be a part of the Ebola Response team showed extraordinary levels of compassion, courage, dedication and selflessness. This included the many hundreds who did not get a chance to deploy but who put their names forward to be a part of the Australian effort. Those who did deploy to Sierra Leone participated in the training, education and mentoring of the local healthcare workforce, contributing to the development of a self-sufficient and sustainable front line capability within Sierra Leone and ready to respond to any future outbreak.

Those Australians who were deployed returned with practical, firsthand experience and skills in the management of not only EVD, but also a large scale epidemic - skills and experience that could be applied by Australia if ever required.

The operational success of the Ebola Response project on behalf of the Australian Government led to a further contract with the UK Government which commenced on 30 June 2015.

Following a robust external procurement process by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), Aspen Medical was contracted to take over the running of the Kerry Town Treatment Unit (KTTU).

Our role will be to continue to operate the KTTU for healthcare workers at the same standard, as well as provide facilities management and essential infrastructure, and support to the lab run by Public Health England.  We will also maintain site infrastructure and will decommission the facility once it closes.

CHALLENGES

  • rapid response required
  • austere environment
  • politically-sensitive
  • multi-agency collaboration