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Country is proud of Ebola nurse, Minister tells MPs

09 January 2015


Protective gear: a health-care worker prepares to enter an Ebola-virus treatment centre in Sierra Leone

Protective gear: a health-care worker prepares to enter an Ebola-virus treatment centre in Sierra Leone

PAULINE CAFFERKEY, the NHS nurse who developed symptoms of the Ebola virus after returning to the UK from Sierra Leone, remains in a critical but stable condition in a hospital in north London.

In a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told MPs that Ms Cafferkey, who volunteered to help sufferers from the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone last year, was seriously ill, but was being cared for at the Royal Free Hospital.

"She said in Sierra Leone that she hoped her loved ones would be proud of her," Mr Hunt said. "Well, she should know today that the whole country is proud of her for her bravery and dedication to the service of others. She stands, quite simply, for the very best of NHS values."

Ms Cafferkey's temperature was checked after she arrived at Heathrow. She was permitted to travel on to Glasgow, where she became feverish, and was admitted to hospital (News, 2 January). Mr Hunt said that the system had worked, as she did not show the necessary symptoms at Heathrow to justify quarantining her, but she had followed procedure after becoming ill.

Ms Cafferkey is being treated with an unnamed experimental drug, as well as blood from a British nurse, William Pooley, who successfully recovered from the virus last year (News, 29 August).

Mr Hunt said that Britain had led the way in Europe in creating a screening process for arrivals from West Africa, besides giving more money and staff to fight the disease than any other nation except the United States.

To help ensure that the UK could cope with any outbreak of the Ebola virus, 75,000 protective suits would be bought by the NHS, and three vaccines were currently undergoing clinical trials, Mr Hunt said.

The disease continues to spread in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. A total of 7905 people have died from the virus, and more than 20,000 have caught the disease.

In Dolo's Town, Liberia, 43 members of a single church congregation died in a matter of weeks. Chloe Brett, an aid worker from the charity Street Child, who visited the town in December, said on Tuesday that hundreds of children had been orphaned by the tragedy.

"The choirmaster had gone away for somebody else's funeral," Ms Brett said, "and, after coming back to the church for a special service, had got very sick. After they died, their family bathed the body, they then got sick, and basically everyone died."

She said that Street Child was supporting 127 children from the community, who had lost either one or both of their parents to the virus. "The scene at the church was quite moving, with a sea of people there to greet us and talk to us about what they had gone through," Ms Brett said. "There was both despondency and shock, sadness, trauma, and confusion."

The nearest hospital was too far away for anyone who became infected to reach before they died, she said, and no government officials or health workers had been able to travel to the town before Street Child.

She had been inspired, she said, by young people in the area who had taken it upon themselves to research the Ebola virus, largely through their mobile phones, and then travelled through the town teaching people how to protect themselves, and what to do if they caught the disease.

The charity was providing trauma counselling as well as clothes and food for children who had survived. After someone dies from the virus, all his or her possessions are burned as a precaution, which means that many of the orphans are left with nothing.

Once all the children have been rehomed with relatives or foster families, they are invited by Street Child into its pre-existing programmes, which provide small loans and business advice to help poor families support themselves.

Ms Brett said that, although the world had acted quickly to help Liberia, it had been too slow in its response to the humanitarian disaster that the virus had caused.

On Wednesday, a new trial began in a Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) centre in Liberia to test a potential vaccine for the Ebola virus, the antiviral drug Brincidofovir. The study is being led by scientists from the University of Oxford. No successful vaccine has yet been deployed, but Brincidofovir has proved effective against Ebola-infected cells in the laboratory.

Church split over virus fears. A quarter of the congregation of an Episcopal church in Washington, DC, stopped attending services because they were afraid that some worshippers might have the Ebola virus.

More than 20 nations, including some in West Africa, are represented in the congregation of Trinity Episcopal Church, and the Rector, Canon John Harmon, was born in Liberia. No one from the church, however, had travelled to countries affected by the virus since the outbreak began last year.

Canon Harmon told a local radio station that he had had an "honest conversation" with the congregation, including asking doctors present to explain how the Ebola virus was transmitted.

Most of the members of the congregation who left have now returned.

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