Sierra Leone Ebola cases could have been halved had UK acted sooner – experts

© Baz Ratner
Ebola cases in Sierra Leone could have been cut by 50 percent had the UK had set up beds in the stricken nation’s treatment centers just one month earlier, a new report claims.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) suggest had British aid efforts been provided sooner, some 7,500 people could have been prevented from contracting the virus.

During that time frame the UK installed more than 1,500 treatment beds in community centers, and a further 1,200 in specialist Ebola centers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says 13,945 people fell ill between September 2014 and February 2015.

LSHTM lecturer in infectious diseases Dr Adam Kucharski and his colleagues say the UK’s involvement saved 40,000 lives. However more deaths could have been prevented had they intervened sooner.

There has been much criticism of the international community’s slow response to the Ebola outbreak,” said study co-author Professor John Edmunds.

Our analysis suggests that putting treatment beds in place just one month earlier could have further reduced the size of the outbreak and potentially saved thousands of more lives. The way we prepare for, and respond to, future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases needs to be strengthened.”

The report, however, emphasized the UK’s actions saved thousands of lives and played an important role in halting the epidemic.

“Our findings show the unprecedented local and international response led to a substantial decline in Ebola transmission,” Kucharski said.

“Given the rapid growth of the outbreak in Sierra Leone, if those beds hadn’t been in place to isolate the ill and avert further infections, the epidemic could have been much worse.”

Edmunds said the outbreak had presented a lesson for nations who sent aid.

“This is a lesson that is obvious from the mathematics, but not necessarily in real life,” he said.

“One of the fundamental problems with this is that if you do respond early and well, then what happens afterwards is that people say all that money was spent and it was only a few hundred cases – what a waste of money. I think it’s quite a difficult message to get across.

“The UK government did respond well when the penny dropped. The response was as rapid as it could have been [once it began], and a lot of resources were put in, but it is getting that action to be much earlier in the first place [that is important].”