The recent West African Ebola outbreak highlighted the need for the international community to develop a system of rapid support for disease outbreaks.
In response the UK Government has provided funding for the establishment of the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team (RST), jointly run by Public Health England and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with academic partners at University of Oxford and Kings College London.
The team has been established to help support countries respond to and control disease outbreaks before they can develop into a global threat. It will continually monitor infectious disease outbreaks around the world, identifying situations where the deployment of specialist expertise could help mitigate threats. When not responding to a disease outbreak, the team will research how best to deal with different types of outbreak scenario as well as training a group of public health reservists so the UK maintains the capability to rapidly scale up responses to outbreaks.
The team was launched yesterday, the 15th of December, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The event was chaired by Dr Karl Blanchett, LSHTM, Director of the LSHTM Humanitarian Crises Centre. Other speakers at the event were:
Dr Brian McCloskey, PHE, Interim Director RST
Prof Jimmy Whitworth, LSHTM, Interim Deputy Director RST
Prof Peter Horby, University of Oxford, Centre for Tropical Medicine & Global Health
Dr James Rubin, Kings College London, Senior Lecturer in the Psychology of Emerging Health Risks.
The London School will work to expand the range of scientific expertise used for outbreak control, including improved laboratory and data management, analysis of policy response, mathematical modelling, patient-oriented research, clinical trials, rapid microbiological and genetic sequencing, community engagement, and approaches for mental health and wellbeing support. Expert teaching will also be provided in the UK via Master’s courses and overseas via distance learning to train the next generation of experts in infectious disease control.
Public Health Minister, Nicola Blackwood, who visited the School to mark the launch of the team, said: “Ebola shook the world and brave experts from the UK led the global response in Sierra Leone. The ability to deploy emergency support to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks within 48 hours will save lives, prevent further outbreaks and cement the UK’s position as a leader in global health security.”
The Commonwealth Secretariat is also playing an important part in working with the ministry of health in Sierra Leone providing technical assistance with development of the first national health protection policy as well as further plans to develop leadership and management capacity withing the ministry and make regional links to learn and share with other countries health approaches.