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Standby team for disease outbreaks 

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, used the G7 summit in Germany to outline how the UK will step up its efforts to combat the outbreak and spread of deadly viruses with a new plan that will include more research and development and an improvement in how international health agencies respond on the ground.


The Prime Minister said that the world must be far better prepared for future health pandemics that could be more aggressive and harder to contain than the recent Ebola outbreak.

While the number of new cases has fallen drastically, experts have warned that lessons must be learnt from what happened. A more virulent disease in future – transmitted by coughing, like the flu or measles for example – would have a much more devastating impact if a better approach is not put in place.

Indeed, CRJ 10:4, just published, carries a news item reporting on the World Health Organization’s Ebola research and development meeting that looked at lessons learned from the recent outbreak. The meeting, held in Geneva this May, took place as an independent planel of experts tasked with assessing the UN global health agency’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa concluded that: “At present, the WHO does not have the operational capacity or culture to deliver a full emergency public health response.”

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director General for Health Systems and Innovation, told reporters that: “Ebola is not the only epidemic-prone disease for which there are no medicines, vaccines or diagnostics. Nor is this the first time the world has been caught unprepared in the face of an epidemic.”

Speaking ahead of the G7, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: “The recent Ebola outbreak was a shocking reminder of the threat we all face from a disease outbreak.” He called for the world to be far better prepared, with: “Better research, more drug development and a faster and more comprehensive approach to how we fight these things when they hit.

The UK will lead the way but we need a truly global response if we are to face down this threat.”

The UK’s big players in drug development and research – including leading pharmaceutical companies, research centres, universities and disease experts – will come together to focus on the most serious global health threats. The UK Vaccines Research and Development Network will bring together the best expertise across the country, with £20 million invested from the outset to focus on the most threatening diseases including Ebola, Lassa, Marburg and Crimean-Congo Fever, with additional investment from the private and research sector.

Given the seriousness of the threat, the UK will be the first country in the world to require clinical trials and disease control operations to be fully transparent. From now on any UK-funded research, data or operation will be made openly available and the UK will look to develop an international agreement – via the G7 – that would see the publication of results of all clinical trials of vaccines for relevant diseases.

Ebola showed that when data on disease outbreaks is not shared quickly, the disease can get out of control. The UK’s Chief Medical Officer will now work with the World Health Organisation to develop a new, more advanced system to share data on a disease with health agencies and doctors and nurses on the frontline.

The UK will establish a new group of six to ten expert staff – mainly epidemiologists, infection control specialists and infection control doctors – who will be on permanent standby, ready to deploy to help countries respond to disease outbreaks. When deployed, the team will act as ‘disease detectives’, to understand what the disease is; how it is spreading; how fast it is spreading; and what response is required. A ‘reservist force’, including hundreds of doctors, nurses and public health experts, will be ready for call-up if the outbreak is not contained at an early stage. 

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