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Warning That UK Lacks Capability to Respond to a Domestic Ebola Outbreak

Britain's response to the Ebola outbreak was marked by “systemic delay” and it is “naive” to think that deadly epidemics that can cross national borders are a thing of the past, a cross-party group of MPs warns in a hard-hitting report published in january.

The committee is concerned that in the “unlikely but possible event of a domestic outbreak” the UK “lacks the capability to go further and manufacture enough vaccines to vaccinate UK citizens in an emergency”.

The MPs state: “Existing facilities are degraded and new plant will take years to build, leaving the UK in a vulnerable position.”

They want the UK to act now and negotiate with vaccine manufacturers to “establish pre-agreed access to manufacturing capabilities that can be called upon quickly in an emergency.

he Westminster Science and Technology committee warns that “delays were evident at every stage” of the UK Government’s response.

The MPs state: “The biggest lesson that must be learnt from this outbreak of Ebola is that even minor delays in responding cost lives. Rapid reaction is essential for any hope of success in containing an outbreak.”

Warning that how the Government responds to global health crises can have a “profound” impact on the lives of people in the UK, they write in today’s report: “While we hope that the world will never experience an Ebola outbreak of this magnitude again, it would be naïve to assume that epidemics with the potential to cause death and devastation, and cross national borders, can be consigned to the past. Our global health policy will have a profound impact on the lives of people in the UK and beyond.

“It is therefore vital that the Government clearly sets out what would trigger an in-country response to a disease emergency and what capability the UK should be able to deploy readily overseas.”

The outbreak, the MPs argue, “highlighted structural weaknesses in the UK’s capacity to absorb and withstand shocks to the system arising from emergencies”.

They want leading experts to publish an “emerging infectious disease strategy” and were “dismayed” to learn that a rapid diagnostic test for Ebola developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory was not released for general use.

The committee wants the Government to “clarify urgently why the rapid diagnostic test for Ebola was not released for use.”

The MPs warn that the UK and other countries were “not ‘research ready’ when the outbreak began” and the response was “uncoordinated”.

They state: “The failure to conduct therapeutic trials earlier in the outbreak was a serious missed opportunity that will not only have cost lives in this epidemic but will impact our ability to respond to similar events in the future.”

The committee members are “not convinced” the UK Government has “looked ahead and considered how a more timely, coordinated and robust response could be achieved when the next epidemic emerges.”

There were “inadequate” systems to share advice and information between the UK and Sierra Leone and this had “harmful repercussions”

On a positive note, the committee states: “The willingness of Government agencies, third sector organisations, health and aid workers, universities, and pharmaceutical companies to go above and beyond to help tackle the outbreak was phenomenal. The swift pace at which clinical trials were approved and conducted particularly stood out.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “All four UK countries have developed a collaborative approach to preparing for and responding to emerging infectious diseases, such as Ebola as well as a pandemic. Our NHS has proven experience of dealing with such infectious disease emergencies.

“It is very important to learn lessons from the Ebola crisis, to help inform responses to future crises, both on a national and global level. We will consider this report with our UK partners.”

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