Since 2014, the UK has been working with the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the wider international community to combat the unprecedented outbreak of Ebola, which has claimed the lives of over 11,000 people in West Africa (World Health Organisation, 13 May 2015).
The Ministry of Defence continues to support the Department for International Development’s (DfID) £427 million response to the crisis in Sierra Leone and, at its peak, the deployment of military personnel to the region represented the largest UK military commitment anywhere in the world, with over 800 personnel assigned to the operation.
The military’s deployment has resulted in a number of successes. Engineers turned six patches of jungle into primary healthcare facilities in just eight weeks; Army medics trained over 4,000 local healthcare workers on how to protect themselves from the Ebola virus; RFA Argus deployed, providing tactical support using Merlin helicopters to move personnel and over 5.5 tonnes of stores and equipment; Royal Marines provided logistical support; and teams of Army medics – both regulars and reservists – staffed the Kerry Town Treatment Unit, a specialist medical treatment centre reserved to treat healthcare workers with Ebola.
The MOD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) provided advice on the biological and physical aspects of the Ebola virus, as well as deploying highly skilled research scientists to the diagnostic laboratory. Dstl also worked with industry partner BBI Detection to provide simple, easy to use diagnostic devices to identify individuals infected with the virus.
Brigadier Andrew Hughes, Commander 11th Infantry Brigade, has been the Commander of UK operations in Sierra Leone since January, but today his tour officially came to an end. In charge of the first ever adaptable force brigade to deploy on operations, the Brigadier is now on his way home and has reflected on his time in country:
Brigadier Andrew Hughes said:
I arrived in Sierra Leone in January and back then, we were seeing in excess of 350 new cases of Ebola being reported each week.
We now have some days when there are no new cases being reported at all across the country and we’re down to single figures being reported weekly. That’s an enormous achievement. With the falling numbers, individual cases are now much easier to locate and as a result, we really are tantalising close to eradicating Ebola from Sierra Leone.
I attribute the success of the operation to date to the ongoing efforts of the military, DfID, other HMG and charity stakeholders. We have all pulled together in a way that has really seen us able to knock the wind out of the Ebola. However, perhaps most importantly, I attribute a huge chunk of our combined success to the Kerry Town Treatment Unit (KTTU).
The KTTU facility has delivered treatment to international healthcare workers who came to Sierra Leone from across the globe to help treat this ghastly disease, and the reassurance effect it has had on this country has been an absolute game changer.
In addition, during their time in country, 11th Infantry Brigade has provided a command and control capability both nationally and across the districts, which wasn’t present before. We took a chaotic situation and have slowly injected a form of order by the implementation of appropriate mechanisms, which have also helped to bring the disease under control.
On the anniversary of the first case of Ebola in Sierra Leone, it is Brigadier Herbert who now takes over the reigns of the UK military’s response, which continues to see approximately 250 personnel committed.
Brigadier Herbert, Commander of UK Ebola Task Force:
It’s a great privilege to be out here at this stage of the operation and I’ve been hugely impressed by what my predecessors have achieved here in Sierra Leone in support of DfID.
My priority now is to continue the excellent work that has gone before me and to get us to zero new cases of Ebola a week.