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UK Military Deployment to Sierra Leone

July is the fifth month of the Ebola Project. Recruitment continues until the end of July. Individuals from a variety of groups who deployed with the military field hospital have agreed to take part; these include doctors, nurses, biomedical scientists, Personal Protective Equipment monitors and Combat Medical Technicians.

The deployment of UK military medical personnel to Sierra Leone is drawing to a close as the outbreak is being brought under control and transmission is falling in Sierra Leone1 . The World Health Organisation had reported more than 27,500 cases and 11,200 deaths globally by 1 July 2015. To date (16 Jul 15) Sierra Leone has reported 13209 total Cases (suspected, probable, and confirmed) 8688 laboratory-confirmed cases and 3947 total deaths2 . 4 July 15 saw many medical personnel return leaving approximately 150 personnel in the country to provide logistic support1.

No medical operation can take place successfully without a wide variety of logistic support to supply equipment and build facilities to support the medical effort. Clearly this has been demonstrated in Sierra Leone. For a number of months, the operation in Sierra Leone was the largest deployment of UK military personnel anywhere in the world. The Army have provided HQ Command which has been provided by HQ 104 Logistic Support Brigade. 22 Field Hospital and then 34 Field Hospital have provided medical support to staff the Kerry Town Treatment Unit, a specialist medical treatment centre reserved to treat healthcare workers with Ebola. 170 Infrastructure Support Group has provided logistical support3 . The Royal Navy provided RFA Argus as both a logistics ship and casualty clearing station and 3 Merlin helicopters, while the RAF provided a Boeing C17 aircraft1. Engineers turned six patches of jungle into primary healthcare facilities in just eight weeks; Army medics have trained over 4,000 local healthcare workers how to protect themselves from the Ebola virus; RFA Argus deployed, providing tactical support using Merlin helicopters to move personnel and over 5.5 tonnes of stores and equipment; Royal Marines provided logistical support4 . Throughout the deployment the Navy have supported the changeover of those medical and engineer personnel after a tour of three to four months5 . The Navy supported the movement of military personnel back to the main international airport at Lungi, so that they could get home for some well-deserved rest and recovery.

Since May the MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has been supporting the UK effort in West Africa by providing advice on the biological and physical aspects of the Ebola virus. They also deployed highly skilled research scientists to the diagnostic lab at the Kerry Town Ebola Treatment Unit in Sierra Leone6 . Dstl has been working closely with industry partner BBI Detection to provide Public Health England (PHE), which is coordinating the UK response, with simple, easy to use diagnostic devices to identify individuals infected with the virus. More than 10,000 of the portable devices have been provided to PHE, with several hundred of the prototypes being used by medics in Sierra Leone to help them assess which individuals to isolate2 . This phase also included the rotation of both people and equipment in order to maintain a credible amphibious capability package under direct command of the Joint Force Commander based ashore in Freetown; from RFA Argus5 .

Military personnel who deployed have been recognised in the latest Queen’s birthday Operational Honours and Awards list. Many personnel were presented with a specially created medal by the Prime Minister David Cameron on 7 July 15. The Prime Minister said that ‘as a result of their efforts many lives were saved and the outbreak contained.’ This is the first time in recent history that a military medal has been created specifically to recognise those who have tackled a humanitarian crisis. One soldier awarded this medal was a British soldier from the Corps of Royal Engineers who was part of a team that developed a 100-bed Ebola Treatment Unit in eight weeks in Sierra Leone. He has been recognised with an MBE for ‘demonstrating maturity and leadership far beyond his rank’.

The Rt. Hon Justine Greening MP spoke at the United Nations (UN) International Ebola Recovery Conference in New York on 10 July 157. She confirmed the UK Government’s commitment to remain in Sierra Leone, until ‘Ebola is completely defeated’. Building hospitals, schools, improving roads and support to growing businesses will be priorities over the next two years to help increase economic development and jobs in Sierra Leone, as well as to make adequate basic services available to all, particularly health, education and water. It is not yet known how much of this commitment will be undertaken by military personnel providing logistic and engineering support7 .

Maj Lizzy Bernthal
Research Fellow
Medical Directorate, RCDM

  1. Tiki-toki (2015) Operation-Gritrock-The-UK-Military-Mission-to-Combat-Ebola-in-Sierra-Leone
    Available at: http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/481198/Operation-Gritrock-The-UK-Military-Mission-to-Combat-Ebola-in-Sierra-Leone/
    [Accessed 14 Jul 15].
  2. WHO (2015) Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa – Case Counts
    Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/case-counts.html
    [Accessed 16 Jul 15].
  3. Wikipedia (2015) Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Gritrock
    [Accessed 16 Jul 15].
  4. British Government (2015) Defence in the media
    Available at: https://modmedia.blog.gov.uk/2015/05/26/the-war-against-ebola-continues-in-sierra-leone/
    [Accessed 14 Jul 15].
  5. MOD (2015) Operation GRITROCK: Deployment Support and Families Newsletter – No3 Available at: http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/~/media/royal%20navy%20responsive/documents/welfare/newsletters/20150327_op_gritrock_family_newsletter_no3.pdf
    [Accessed 14 Jul 15].
  6. Tiki-toki (2015) Operation-Gritrock-The-UK-Military-Mission-to-Combat-Ebola-in-Sierra-Leone
    Available at: http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/481198/Operation-Gritrock-The-UK-Military-Mission-to-Combat-Ebola-in-Sierra-Leone/
    [Accessed 14 Jul 15].
  7. Greening (2015) “The UK’s commitment to addressing the Ebola crisis is unwavering”
    Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-uks-commitment-to-addressing-the-ebola-crisis-is-unwavering
    [Accessed 14 Jul 15].