The King’s Sierra Leone Partnership (KSLP) played a critical role in the Ebola response in Freetown, working within Connaught Hospital and with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation to curtail the outbreak. Although Ebola no longer makes the headlines, it is still very much felt by Sierra Leone and its people, and is still a part of our partnership’s collective memory, way of working, and strategic vision.
KSLP was a member of the Ebola Response Consortium (ERC), a coordinated NGO response in Sierra Leone to the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Below is a video highlighting many of the organisations involved in the response.
About Ebola Virus Disease
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a severe viral illness, with mortality rates of 60 – 90%. The virus is generally transmitted through bodily fluids, but also occasionally through contact with surfaces that a person with EVD has touched. Burial ceremonies that involve touching the body are also a transmission risk.
The early symptoms of EVD can often be confused with malaria or cholera, and can include: sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat. Vomiting and diarrhoea follow, increasing the chances of transmitting the virus, and there can be internal and external bleeding.
Patients are infectious once the symptoms begin to show: 2 to 21 days after they have contracted the virus. While vaccines are now being trialled, there was no vaccine or cure during the outbreak and treatment options were limited. Patients required intensive supportive care, with intravenous fluids or oral rehydration salts.
About Ebola Virus Disease in Sierra Leone
The virus first surfaced in Guinea in February 2014, but it was not until May that the first cases and deaths were confirmed in Sierra Leone. The disease spread quickly, and by July the number of cases was in excess of 1,000. Among the fallen was Sierra Leone’s most experienced haemorrhagic fever specialist, Dr Sheik Humarr Khan, who had been treating patients at Kenema Hospital in the eastern part of the country.
Having recently emerged from a brutal 11-year civil war, Sierra Leone’s weakened health systems struggled to contain the outbreak. A lack of supplies, a shortage of trained lab technicians, infectious disease specialists, and insufficient training in effective infection control practices were major challenges. While public health information from the government was consistent, fear of the disease spread and rumours circulated, further exacerbating the severity of the outbreak.
KSLP’s Role in the Response
The KSLP team remained in Freetown, supporting the Ebola response through advisory and clinical roles. We believed that the risks were manageable and that our support to partners had never been more vital. Read more about our role in preparing for the outbreak and working on the frontline.
The King’s Sierra Leone Partnership played a crucial role in curtailing the Ebola response in Sierra Leone. Working in collaboration with local partners we:
- Set up an isolation unit at Connaught Hospital and mobilised a team of 50 national staff to manage it. Connaught’s highly trained isolation unit staff managed over 1,100 suspected, and over 650 confirmed cases of Ebola in the hospital*
- Supported six hospitals across Freetown to set up Holding Units, which saw 2,571 suspected cases, 1,159 of which were positive*. These units are now fully managed by Sierra Leoneans, with training, mentorship and supportive visits from King’s Sierra Leone Partnership
- Provided training for a large number of healthcare workers, surveillance officers and others involved in the outbreak
- Set up the Western Area Command Centre, a key part of managing various elements of the response
- Supported Connaught Hospital to stay open for normal medical services, and developed a system for those testing negative for Ebola to receive initial admission for free
- Worked closely with the Government of Sierra Leone and the British response to provide technical advice where required
- Piloted a psychological support programme by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust for healthcare workers
- Published key papers in Eurosurveillance, Lancet Infectious Diseases, and BMJ Global Health about various aspects of the outbreak and key findings for how best to respond to future outbreaks.
From Response to Recovery
On 7 November 2015, Sierra Leone reached the milestone of 42 days without an Ebola case. Known as 0+42, this is significant because it marks the passing of two incubation periods since the last case tested negative for EVD. Unfortunately another cluster of cases emerged in Sierra Leone in January 2016, restarting the countdown to 42 days. Transmission linked to these most recent cases was declared to have ended on 17 March 2016.
Although the Ebola outbreak has effectively ended, we continue to provide technical expertise in the management of suspected Ebola cases. We are also part of a new consortium of NGOs working to support Connaught Hospital in its role as the tertiary referral centre for Ebola survivors.
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS) has identified a number of key result areas in their post-Ebola recovery priorities including Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) and post-graduate training. We’re committed to supporting our partners in achieving these priorities and to finding long-term, sustainable solutions to ensure that Sierra Leone has a health system in place to prevent a similar outbreak in the future. You can read more about our work here.