Joshua Taylor, Biomedical Scientist in Microbiology, volunteered to work in Sierra Leone in response to the Ebola outbreak. Well, the good news is that Josh is now back and ready to tell us all about his experience in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
“In November I applied to volunteer and in mid-December I received my 6 week placement. Before I left I had a week’s training at Public Health England’s lab at Porton Down, in Wiltshire. It had a replica of the lab I would be working in which included a containment lab which are designed and built to prevent lab workers being exposed to and then getting infected with the viruses they’re working with.
“In Sierra Leone I worked at Kerry Town, which is 31 km south-west of the capital, Freetown. The Ebola clinic at Kerry Town had a 62 bed facility built in November 2014 by the Ministry of Defence and then handed over to the charity, Save The Children, to run it. The site had an Ebola testing lab run by scientists to diagnose patients – and this is where I worked.
“As a volunteer in the diagnostic lab I was doing PCR on blood samples and swabs for Ebola (as well as malaria to rule out the possibility that they could have malaria because the symptoms are similar). PCR is a fast and inexpensive lab technique used to make multiple copies of small segments of DNA for analysis. PCR looks for genetic material from the virus and can pick up very small amounts of it.
Luckily, I had experience of the PCR techniques thanks to my time at St George’s. As part of my lab work I also got experience of working in a class 3 containment cabinet (which was completely sealed) which I had only done for the first time at Porton Down.”
“Every day we were bussed into the lab and worked in shifts with one day off a week. One of the biggest differences working in Sierra Leone was the close contact we had with every-body from ambulance drivers delivering samples to doctors and nurses. We could also see patients when they were due to leave the treatment centre after they had their final lab test. In the UK I rarely get to have this sort of interaction with other areas of the health service.
“Overall, it was a fantastic experience and I’d definitely recommend it. The epidemic is not over yet so if you want to make a difference – volunteer!” For information go to the UK-Med website www.UK-med.org