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Ebola outbreak: Report shows UK is not ready for disease emergency

The worst Ebola outbreak in history started in December 2013
The worst Ebola outbreak in history started in December 2013

The Ebola epidemic exposed the UK’s lack of readiness for an infectious disease emergency, a report has revealed.

The “heroic” efforts of health worker volunteers who sometimes risked their own lives to help victims of the disaster, were praised in a report from the science and technology select committee.

But the MPs said Britain’s response to the crisis, like that of other countries, was undermined by “systematic delay”.

The recent outbreak, which began in Guinea in late 2013, became the largest and most complex on record.

In December, the World Health Organisation estimated there had been more than 28,500 confirmed cases and more than 11,000 deaths.

Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone in 2014, was hospitalised a second time last year after the virus caused her to develop meningitis, which was successfully treated.

Tory MP Nicola Blackwood chairs the parliamentary group, which began its investigation into the UK’s response last summer.

She said: “The UK response to Ebola – like the international one – was undermined by systematic delay.

“The government’s emergency response procedures were triggered far too late in the day.

“Ebola test kits were developed and trialled, but not deployed, and the initial response was ad hoc and uncoordinated.

“We must take the opportunity now to ensure that the UK is not caught unprepared when the next disease emergency strikes. Lives can be lost for every day of delay.”

She said it was encouraging the government had pledged more public investment in vaccine and treatment development for infectious diseases.

But she insisted it should not stop there, calling for the publication of an infectious disease strategy identifying priority threats.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global Health at Oxford University, said: “The committee report highlights some important issues, which if addressed will go some way to improving the UK response to epidemics like Ebola.

“However, the recommendations are largely inward looking and procedural; focused on communications, representation, and decision making.

“To an extent this reflects the terms of reference but for me the report is disappointing in its restricted vision for the scope of UK science to build global resilience against diseases like Ebola.”

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