A Blackpool doctor today spoke of the heart-breaking situation faced by British medics working in Africa to tackle the Ebola crisis.
As previously reported in The Gazette, Dr Dan Cooper sacrificed Christmas with family and friends in the UK in order to spend the festive season with other NHS volunteers in Sierra Leone.
One British medic who had been working in the region is currently being treated for Ebola after returning to the UK last weekend.
Pauline Cafferkey, 39, is today at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
She was placed in isolation at a Glasgow hospital early Monday morning after feeling feverish, before being transferred south on a military-style plane in a quarantine tent.
Efforts are ongoing to trace passengers on the flights Mrs Cafferkey took back to the UK via Casablanca in Morocco and London Heathrow, arriving at Glasgow Airport at about 11.30pm on Sunday on a British Airways flight.
The nurse was part of a 30-strong team of medical volunteers deployed to Africa by the UK Government last month.
Mrs Cafferkey, from Glasgow, had been working with Save the Children at the Ebola Treatment Centre in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone.
She is the second Briton to test positive and the first to do so on UK soil after nurse William Pooley, 29, contracted Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone in August before getting the all-clear following treatment at the Royal Free Hospital.
About 100 people have been tested for the virus in hospitals across England this year, most of whom had visited West Africa.
Dr Cooper, 29, flew out to Sierra Leone on December 6 to spend six weeks treating Ebola victims.
Among the tragedies he has faced first hand have been the deaths of twin babies who succumbed to the disease at less than a month old.
He told The Gazette: “There are some heartbreaking individual stories. I admitted some 23-day-old twins who had been orphaned when their mother died shortly after their birth from Ebola.
“We tried everything, but sadly they died about 12 hours after admission. We also have a 12-year old-boy with a great personality. His whole family died from Ebola (six members) and he became ill.
“He has very quickly perked up, and we spent two hours yesterday teaching him how to juggle! So, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions.”
Dr Cooper said safety of health workers was a priority.
He added: “We were handed over a 100-bed Ebola treatment centre (ETC) from the Royal Engineers courtesy of the British Government and DfID (Department for International Development).
“We spent around 10 days getting it up and running, stocking the wards and supplying the pharmacy with all the medications we need. We also had to train the national staff and make sure everyone was safe before we opened.
“Most days start with a handover from the night team at 8am, and an update on the night’s events.
“We then send a team in full protective kit to do the first round of the day, assessing the patients, making sure they get oral rehydration solution and food if they can eat.
“We then send teams in through the day to give the limited treatment we can do.
“The patients range from relatively well, with a diarrhoea and vomiting type illness to critically unwell with profuse bleeding and seizures.
“An important part of care is the psychosocial aspect – explaining things to the patients, tracing their families (some of them come from three hours away in remote villages) and also monitoring contacts.
“I’m really proud of the British Government and NHS response to this growing humanitarian crisis. Hopefully we’ll have some more success stories before we come home at the end of January.”
Dr Cooper, who is a kidney specialist at Worcester Royal Hospital, is the son of former Blackpool Trinity Hospice director David Cooper and his wife Jackie.
Before he travelled to Sierra Leone, he undertook intense training which included how to protect himself from the disease.
Medics must wear full protective clothing while treating patients, and be cautious when mixing with members of the community outside their hours of work.
UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said NHS safety measures in place were working well. In the wake of Ms Cafferkey’s diagnosis, Mr Hunt added: “We are also reviewing our procedures and protocols for all the other NHS workers who are working at the moment in Sierra Leone.”