Daniel Cooper: On the Ebola frontline at the Kerry Town Treatment Unit in Sierra Leone
At a time when public and media interest is waning, the West African Ebola epidemic shows no signs of ending. With Guinea and Sierra Leone still reporting new cases on a weekly basis, hopes of Liberia being declared Ebola free have been dashed with five new cases reported last week.
Despite the relatively small number or new infections in Sierra Leone, when compared to this time last year, the arrival of the rainy season and cross-border travel from Guinea are proving thorns in the side of the British Government-led Ebola response.
The Department for International Development (DFID) funded and military-run Kerrytown Treatment Unit (KTTU) has acted as backstop for expatriate and national healthcare workers alike since November 2014. As the MOD reached the end of their involvement at KTTU (the army are still heavily involved in central coordination of the response) DFID have contracted the running of the unit to Aspen Medical. Having been involved in the Ebola response since November 2014 in 2 separate NGO led Ebola Treatment units, and now as part of the Aspen Medical team, I have experienced both sides of what the unit can offer. I am in little doubt that the potential for the presence of international and NHS staff in Sierra Leone would take a huge hit without the security of high-level care at KTTU.
Notwithstanding the potential for prompt and high-level care, coupled with rapid repatriation offered to international workers, the unit offers the unique ability to offer a “western” standard of care to the heroic Sierra Leonean healthcare workers. I don’t use heroic lightly, the majority of national staff have been working tirelessly and with enormous dedication since the start of the outbreak – without a break, at enormous risk and whilst watching their own families and communities decimated.
The clinical team at the unit have collectively seen and treated several hundred Ebola patients. With clinicians experienced in infectious diseases, anaesthetics, intensive care and nephrology, KTTU can offer an unrivalled level of expertise and resources to Sierra Leonean healthcare workers infected with this deadly disease. With the mainstay of clinical management being intensive fluid resuscitation and electrolyte management, it could be argued that nephrology and ICU are the ideal specialities to accompany infectious diseases in the care of Ebola patients.
Being involved in the team to continue and develop the work done by the MOD is a real honour and a privilege. Hopefully the reassurance offered by the presence of KTTU will encourage the national and international response to continue until West Africa achieves the goal of zero cases.
Daniel Cooper is a specialist registrar in nephrology and internal medicine in the UK, currently on a three year OOPE to pursue humanitarian and international work. Initially deployed as an NHS volunteer, Daniel has spent the past seven months working with NGOs treating Ebola patients. He is now part of the Aspen Medical team running the DFID-funded Kerry Town Treatment Unit.