Scottish health workers, military personnel and charities have made a “profound contribution” to the UK’s response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, a conference has been told.
The event highlighting the work of those who have travelled to west Africa to fight the disease was hosted by international development minister Baroness Northover and Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael.
The UK has led the international response to tackling the virus in Sierra Leone, with £427 million supporting more than half of all the beds available for Ebola patients in the country and helping to train 4,000 frontline staff.
About 10,000 people have died since the outbreak last year, according to figures from the World Health Organisation.
Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have been the worst-affected countries where more than 24,000 confirmed and suspected cases have been reported.
Recently, the epidemic has shown signs of slowing down and Liberia released its last Ebola patient from a treatment centre last week.
No British nationals have died from Ebola but nurses Pauline Cafferkey, from Scotland, and Will Pooley both needed critical care for the highly-contagious disease after contracting it while treating patients in Sierra Leone last year.
Baroness Northover said Scotland could be “immensely proud” of the efforts of its health workers, members of the military and volunteers.
Speaking after the conference at the Department for International Development (DFID) headquarters in East Kilbride, she said: “With our help there are now sufficient treatment and isolation beds, sufficient labs to test for the virus quickly and effectively, and sufficient trained burial teams to make sure bodies are buried quickly, safely and with the dignity they deserve.
“We have gone from seeing over 500 cases a week at the end of November to under 60 in early March.
“This huge reduction shows that our strategy is working, but we cannot afford to be complacent. We must get to zero cases as fast as possible.
“The results the UK response has achieved shows how our commitment to investing 0.7% of our national income in development is making a genuine difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.”
Alasdair Kerr, a staff nurse at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, who recently returned from the country after working at the same treatment centre where Ms Cafferkey had been working, also addressed the conference.
He said: “A lot of our care was just supportive – absolutely basic nursing care, keeping people clean, making sure they were comfortable, dealing with any pain or nausea they were suffering from and most importantly keeping them hydrated.
“You had to be aware of the dangers but you couldn’t be paralysed by them – you had to get on with the job and I think that is what we did, and I’m very proud of what we achieved.”
Speaking about the moment he heard Ms Cafferkey had been diagnosed with Ebola shortly after arriving back in the UK in December, the 30-year-old said: “I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about it at the time, I just had to go on and get on with the job.
“Obviously we all felt very worried for her and we are all delighted that she got better.
“But it’s important to see this in context. Our option as a country was between sending healthcare workers in and sending aid to deal with this, and accepting the risk to our healthcare personnel in exchange for combating an epidemic and bringing it under control.
“The alternative would have been to have an epidemic out of control with perhaps millions of people infected worldwide, any one of whom would have been a plane ride away.
“So, I think overall it was definitely the right thing to do and we are all just delighted that Pauline made a recovery.”
A female military healthcare worker is currently being treated for the disease and was flown back to the UK last week after she tested positive for Ebola.
She is being treated in a high-level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) in London after being flown back to the UK on Thursday from Sierra Leone in a RAF plane.
DFID said UK-led efforts mean there are now resources to track down the disease across Sierra Leone and stop it spreading further.
Mr Carmichael added: “The UK has been at the forefront of the incredible response to Ebola and Scotland has played a huge part in providing expertise and support as part of that partnership.
“Working together meant we could go further and do more together to combat this terrible disease, combining our resources with the bravery and skill of those fighting Ebola first-hand to make a real difference.”