ONE year ago doctors confirmed a disease which had been infecting people across West Africa since December was in fact the deadly virus Ebola.
Since then thousands of healthcare workers from Europe, North America and elsewhere have travelled to the region to help fight the outbreak of the disease, which has killed an estimated 10,500 people worldwide.
People first show symptoms between two and 21 days of becoming infected. These can include a headache, fever, muscle pain or weakness and a sore throat. Symptoms can then worsen, significantly, developing into vomiting and diarrhoea and bleeding from the eyes and other orifices.
Dozens of people from Oxfordshire are among those who have risked their lives to treat victims, improve healthcare services and spread information about how to tackle Ebola.
Oxfam alone sent 28 Oxford-based staff to the region and Faringdon nurse Andy Gleadle is set to return to Sierra Leone after spending two weeks there in October.
And in September volunteers from across the county started receiving a trial vaccine, based on research carried out by Professor Adrian Hill of Oxford University’s Jenner Institute.
Staff at RAF Brize Norton were also involved in the fight against Ebola when nurse William Pooley, the first British person to be affected in the current outbreak, was flown back there from Africa.
Despite some countries with a lower number of cases, such as Nigeria and Mali being declared free from Ebola, the virus is still infecting people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Health officials have managed to get a hold on the outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone, with only a handful of cases on average now being recorded each week.
‘The way to protect UK is to tackle virus at its West African source’
IN MORE than 10 years with the International Medical Corps (IMC) Andy Gleadle has helped respond to outbreaks of diseases across the world.
But he faced his most daunting missions in October last year when he travelled to Sierra Leone twice to help co-ordinate the organisation’s response to Ebola.
Andy Gleadle, from Faringdon, travelled to Sierra Leone twice in October as an aid worker for the International Medical Corps fighting the Ebola epidemic
The nurse from Faringdon is set to return to the African country in the next few weeks and said the fight against the disease is not yet over.
The 48-year-old said: “We are still very focussed on trying to eradicate the outbreak.
“The problem in Sierra Leone is that we are still seeing new cases every week.
“The health care system broke down during the epidemic and people were very unwilling to go to the health centre even to get care for things which were not Ebola-related.
“Our strategy, by putting these regional units in place, is that we have more staff to diagnose Ebola and it keeps the at-risk people out of the health centres where they could infect other people.
“Even before the outbreak Sierra Leone was very challenged in terms of health care.”
Mr Gleadle spent time on the wards where Ebola patients were being treated as he showed other doctors and nurses that the safety procedures were working.
When he spoke to the Oxford Mail in October he warned that the number of people affected could have reached one million by January unless the outbreak was tackled. It is estimated about 25,000 people have been victims.
But Mr Gleadle said there was still a potential threat to the United Kingdom.
He said: “I have always said since the beginning of the outbreak the way to protect the UK is by tackling it at source and beating the virus in West Africa.
“We are very fortunate to have a well resourced and advised health care system.
“We have to eradicate this for the future of Sierra Leone but also for ourselves.”
Information is key to fighting outbreak
AN Oxford woman who travelled to West Africa to fight Ebola has said the work she and her colleagues did to spread information was key to tackling the outbreak.
Camila Knox-Peebles is among 28 Oxfam workers from the county who have spent time in the region in the past year.
The 43-year-old from West Oxford said the work Oxfam and other charities had done had improved the situation dramatically but challenges remain.
Among them was tackling people’s misconceptions about Ebola.
Ms Knox-Peebles said: “When I went out what really struck me was the level of suspicion and fear.
“We were trying to convince a man whose wife had died to get his sick baby referred, but after his wife had been taken away by ambulance he never saw her again.
“So he was very frightened of us taking care of his sick child and it was literally being hidden by a family member.
“There is a huge job to be done just in building people’s trust.
“It was really positive in early January to see people self-referring in many places.
“There is real progress in Liberia and Sierra Leone as well because there are now enough beds and enough staff making the beds usable.
“In that sense we are much further along, but there is still work to be done and we need to remain vigilant.”
The World Health Organisation said more than 24,000 cases of the disease had been confirmed in the last year and more than 10,000 people had died.
Working with other Oxfam volunteers in the region, Ms Knox-Peebles helped to improve hygiene in communities by promoting hand-washing and making sure people had access to soap, water and chlorine.
She also worked on a public information campaign to help people understand the disease and what symptoms should prompt them to refer themselves to health workers.
Money donated by British people has also helped replace essential items survivors have lost.
These include mattresses, which were burned to prevent further infections.
To donate to Oxfam’s Ebola fund visit donate.oxfam.org.uk/emergency/ebola.
University staff pioneer hunt for breakthrough
RESEARCHERS and scientists at Oxford University have been helping to lead the fight against Ebola by developing medicine to tackle the virus.
In September mum-of-two Ruth Atkins of Marcham was the first person in the world to be given a pioneering new treatment in a trial run at the Oxford Vaccine Group Centre.
It saw her injected with an Ebola gene, carried in a harmless chimpanzee cold virus, in the hope it would make her immune to the disease.
Ruth Atkins is injected with an Ebola gene by University clinicial research fellow Dr Felicity Hartnell
A total of 60 healthy volunteers were inoculated at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute between September 17 and November 18 last year.
In January, 300 doses of the vaccine were shipped to Liberia, but it may be some time before its effectiveness is known.
The university also headed a trial for a new drug called brincidofovir, along with Medecins Sans Frontiers and scientists in Liberia.
The drug was given to Ebola patients to see if it was effective.
But the pharmaceutical company which produced the drug, Chimerix, stopped the trial on January 30 because fewer people were being infected. This meant there were not enough people to be given the drug.