NHS staff volunteer for Ebola effort

A World Health Organisation worker, (centre) trains nurses to use Ebola protective gear in Freetown, Sierra Leone (18 September 2014)

More than 160 NHS staff have volunteered to help with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The news was announced at a meeting of UK experts held in London.

It comes as the World Health Organization has warned the number of infections will treble to 20,000 by November if efforts are not stepped up.

There have been 2,800 deaths so far and the disease remains “a public health emergency of international concern”, the UN agency said.

Nearly all of the deaths in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak have been recorded in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The virus is transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids, and there is no proven cure.

The Wellcome Trust charity announced on Tuesday that experimental drugs would be tested in West Africa for the first time.

Several drugs are under development, but they have not been fully tested and most are in very short supply.

They include the drug ZMapp, which has been given to a handful of infected health workers.

Ethical issues

Dr Peter Horby, of the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health at the University of Oxford, said the first trials could begin in West Africa as early as November.

“We want to evaluate these carefully, properly, in affected countries in West Africa,” he told the BBC.

“For the next one or two weeks we’ll be doing site assessments and we’ll be working with the WHO [World Health Organization] on identifying which drugs to prioritise, and then there’ll be a number of steps in setting up the systems – getting ethical approval through the countries and getting community participation and agreement to run the trials.

“Currently our wish is that we would hope to be able to enrol some patients sometime in November – that would be extremely quick by most clinical trial standards.”

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said therapeutics alone were not an answer.

“The answer really is public health interventions,” he said. “But I do think vaccines and drugs are going to play a role.”

Meanwhile, more information on the spread and likely scale of the epidemic has emerged.

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests by early November there will have been nearly 20,000 cases.

It also found death rates were higher than previously reported at about 70% of all cases.