A rapid support team which will be on call to respond to urgent requests from around the world to to help tackle disease outbreaks at source has been announced by the government.
From Monday (31 October), the UK has a fully operational specialist team of health experts who can be deployed to tackle outbreaks of deadly disease anywhere in the world within 48 hours.
The UK Public Health Rapid Support Team consists of clinicians, scientists and academics who will be on call to respond to urgent requests from countries around the world and fly in to help tackle disease outbreaks at source.
The Ebola crisis highlighted the need for the international community to develop a system to help countries respond to and control disease outbreaks that pose a threat to public health before they can develop into a global emergency.
This new capacity will mean the UK continues its proud tradition of being at the forefront of fighting global threats such as Zika and Ebola.
Disease outbreaks can spread rapidly, including across borders and we know halting diseases at source is the most effective way to protect people in the UK.
The Government has made £20million available from the UK development assistance budget to fund the team over five years. It will be jointly run by Public Health England and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
When not responding to a disease outbreak, the team will research how best to deal with different types of outbreak scenario as well as training a group of public health reservists so we can maintain the capability to rapidly scale up our response to any disease outbreak or health emergency.
The team will work with counterparts in developing countries to train responders and strengthen their local capacity to identify and control disease outbreaks. This would be in addition to preventing the spread of water-borne infections such as cholera.
Public Health Minister, Nicola Blackwood said:
“Ebola shook the world and brave experts from the UK led the global response in Sierra Leone. The ability to deploy emergency support to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks within 48 hours will save lives, prevent further outbreaks and cement the UK’s position as a leader in global health security.”
Chief Executive of Public Health England, Duncan Selbie said:
“Speed is key in tackling infectious disease, and with this new capability we can now deploy specialists anywhere in the world within 48 hours, saving and protecting lives where an outbreak starts and helping to keep the UK safe at home.”
Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Professor Peter Piot, said:
“We are proud that we will play a key role in protecting the UK from global epidemics. It is also vital that the UK helps strengthen vulnerable countries to detect and respond quickly to disease outbreaks. This means the world will be better prepared to prevent future epidemics, and we will not witness such suffering, death and social and economic disaster as we saw in the Ebola crisis.”
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said:
“Diseases can spread rapidly and do not respect borders. The most effective way to protect the UK is to stop diseases spreading at the source and prevent disease from travelling to different parts of the world. Time is crucial in containing an outbreak and this new expert team will support countries in preventing local outbreaks becoming global epidemics.”
The team will continually monitor infectious diseases and other hazards globally, identifying situations where the deployment of specialist expertise could mitigate these threats.
The core team includes experts in tracking the progress of an outbreak (epidemiologists); in diagnosing the cause of an outbreak (microbiologists); in advising on outbreak control measures (infection prevention and control) and community responses to outbreaks (social scientists); and in developing the best clinical response measures (clinical researchers). The core team consists of:
- senior epidemiologist
- clinical researcher
- field epidemiologist
- social scientist
- data manager/analyst/systems expert
- infection prevention and control expert
The core team will be backed by a reservist team who will trained to UK Public Health Rapid Support Team standards and protocols but will have routine “day jobs” in their employing organisation.
Notes to editors
The public health minister, Nicola Blackwood is available for interviews, please contact Marc Masey on 020 7210 5703 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange.
University of Oxford and Kings College London are part of the research consortium led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Informed by surveillance data, the UK PHRST will be able to deploy on behalf of UK Government in response to requests from low and middle income countries as well as with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Outbreak and Response Network (GOARN).