UK-Med team return from Rwanda

Read an update from Benjamin Black, who was part of a small UK-Med team that has recently returned from Rwanda following a trip to support preparedness efforts. The team was led by UK-Med Health Programmes Director Dr Sinead O’Reilly, who was joined by Dr Derek Sloan – Consultant in Infectious Diseases, David Anderson – Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Veronica Sanchez – WASH advisor and Dr. Benjamin Black – Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Each member of the team has significant humanitarian and global health experience, which includes responding to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.  

Benjamin Oren Black

From between the nurses in yellow hazmat suits the man can be seen lying unconscious on the bed. They gently take his arm, and with careful precision draw the blood to test him for Ebola. Every action must be performed with total awareness of surroundings, a wrong move and one risks exposing themselves or others to the disease. That is why training and practice are vital, and the reason why UK-Med, with DFID, are in Rwanda supporting the teams here in preparing for the possibility of Ebola crossing their border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Ebola epidemic across the border has continued for over a year, and shows no sign of slowing down. It is the second largest recorded outbreak with more than 2,700 people infected and over 1,800 deaths, resulting in over 1,180 children orphaned so far. The affected region has been subject to conflict and neglect for decades, resulting in a highly mobile population which has learnt to distrust outsiders. In mid-July the first case of Ebola was confirmed in the congested border town of Goma, a few days after the WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Approximately 40,000 people cross between Goma and Gisenyi (in Rwanda) each day, making international spread a major concern.

In response to a request from DFID, UK-Med deployed a small team of Ebola experienced doctors, nurse and engineer to Rwanda to work with the WHO and Rwandan Ministry of Health reviewing their plans and preparations for reducing the risk of Ebola spreading, and management of a case if they were to have any. The team have worked closely with their Rwandan counterparts in the border towns of Gisenyi and Rusizi focussing on Infection Prevention and Control, Ebola screening and Ebola Treatment Centre management.

A lot of work had already taken place prior to the visit, and during live simulation exercises the team were able to observe how the Rwandan teams would manage a case of Ebola if a patient were to arrive at a general hospital. All members of the UK-Med team are familiar with the management of Ebola and have worked inside the Ebola Treatment Centres of the West African Epidemic. In addition the team have experience in the continuation of vital non-Ebola healthcare services, and ways to mitigate the risk of infection to healthcare workers and other patients at facilities.

During the team’s visit a further three cases of Ebola were detected in Goma, making the need for high quality screening, infection control and preparations all the more timely.

While nobody wants to see Ebola inside Rwanda, we hope our support will assist the Rwandans in maximising the safety of their population and to be as ready as possible if patients were to arrive.

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