A portable device which can test bodily fluids for Ebola and anthropological training for health workers to help them work more effectively with local communities are among the five research programmes which the UK government and the Wellcome Trust are funding to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Wellcome Trust are releasing £1.34m from a joint fund to support five projects, run by leading British and international researchers, which will improve evidence and understanding of the Ebola outbreak.
The research covers areas which are vital to a more effective response in West Africa to the disease, from the development of improved diagnostic tools to strengthening surveillance and protecting health workers.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: “These ground-breaking new research projects have the potential to transform our understanding of the disease. I have seen for myself in Sierra Leone the devastation that Ebola can cause. The UK's response is already making strides in tackling the outbreak and this research will help develop new and practical ways to combat this terrible disease.”
Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trustsaid: “Up until now, support for the Ebola outbreak has focused on improving public health measures by increasing facilities and equipment, and fast tracking vaccine and drug trials. However, without knowledge and understanding of local communities this life-saving work can often fail. This funding will address that gap by training medical staff to engage effectively with local people about key issues, improving diagnostic tests and providing predictive mapping of the spread of the disease.”
The projects, managed by Enhancing Learning & Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) include the development of a device to providereliable, rapid and safe diagnostic tests suitable for use in the field.
EbolaCheck, led by the University of Westminster, aims to test bodily fluids, like saliva, for Ebola in a single process, providing results within 40 minutes – over eight times quicker than some existing laboratory techniques.
Another project – the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform – led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Sussex – will develop advice and training for health workers in West Africa.
The project will help staff communicate health messages effectively, assess the acceptability of drug trials to people in West Africa, support the modification of funeral practices in Sierra Leone to improve safety, and develop home nursing guidelines.
The funding for the five projects has been made available from an existing £6.5 million research initiative, Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC), which is jointly funded by DFID and the Wellcome Trust.
The unprecedented scale of the Ebola crisis in West Africa has highlighted the need for better evidence to inform more effective responses to this and future outbreaks.
SUMMARY OF RESEARCH PROPOSALS (Total £1.34m)
1. EbolaCheck – Portable Device which tests bodily fluids for Ebola
University of Westminster – Dr Sterghios Moschos
This project looks at the development of a cost-effective, portable, battery-powered device which can provide reliable, rapid and safe diagnostic tests suitable for use in the field.
EbolaCheck aims to test bodily fluids for Ebola in a single process, providing results within 40 minutes – over eight times quicker than some existing laboratory techniques.
2. Predicting the geographic spread of Ebola virus disease in West Africa
University of Oxford – Professor Simon Hay & Dr Nick Golding
Using data on human mobility, population density and transport infrastructure in West African countries, this piece of research will make predictions about disease spread. This will enable resources to be deployed more effectively to contain the epidemic.
The information will be mapped out and contain summaries of health centres most likely to see new cases. This will be continuously updated as data becomes available and shared through an online tool.
3. Behaviour change to help infection prevention and control
International Rescue Committee – Dr Lara Ho
This research, being carried out in Sierra Leone, analyses the levels of knowledge and risks perceptions amongst health workers. The aim to help overcome barriers that staff may face in adhering to standard precautions. This will ensure that safety procedures and training for health workers is effective as possible to reduce the risk of infection while working on the front line.
4. Modelling the Ebola epidemic in West Africa
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine – Professor John Edmunds
This piece of research uses statistical modelling to analyse data collected by MSF in West Africa to look at how many cases and deaths from Ebola might be expected over time. The study will look at what health care facilities will be needed to cope with different scenarios.
5. Ebola Response Anthropology Platform
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine– Dr Melissa Parker
An Ebola Response Anthropology Platform will look at developing locally-appropriate interventions. The project aims to provide rapid, practical advice on how to engage more effectively with affected populations.
The R2HC programme is the product of a strategic partnership between DFID and the Wellcome Trust, with ELRHA overseeing the programme's execution and management. The overall aim of the programme is to improve health outcomes by strengthening the evidence base for public health interventions in humanitarian crises. The current call forms part of the £6.5m available for research on health in humanitarian crises up to December 2016 through the R2HC programme. The size and number of grants to be awarded will depend on the number of high-quality applications received that are within the scope of the call.
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About the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We provide more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine. Our £16.4 billion investment portfolio gives us the independence to support such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, research that established front-line drugs for malaria, and Wellcome Collection, our free venue for the incurably curious that explores medicine, life and art. www.wellcome.ac.uk
Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) supports partnerships between researchers and practitioners to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian action. ELRHA promotes such partnerships through its programmes, aiming to support the production of research, innovations, and training that delivers measurable impact in the prevention of and response to global humanitarian crises.