Since the onset of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, CDC Kenya staff including Kevin DeCock, Joel Montgomery, John Neatherlin, Barry Fields, Bonventure Juma and Clayton Onyango have been deployed to Liberia as part of the outbreak response team.
Clayton Onyango is the Deputy Lab Director at CDC Kenya’s Division of Global Health Protection. He has just spent the last 3 weeks in Liberia as part of the Ebola Outbreak Response team and shares his experience.
What was your role?
Initially CDC had planned to deploy us to Foya (a remote Liberian location bordering Guinea) with a role in setting up an ebola diagnostic laboratory in that location. Our team was however unable to get to Foya due to a couple of reasons including heavy rains that made roads inaccessible as well as lack of air flights. There was also a greater need of supporting a newly established Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Monrovia by MSF. Discussions between CDC, MSF and Liberian health officials resolved that our laboratory be set up at ELWA to support the new ETU. When we arrived the ETU was relatively small but it expanded to a capacity of 120 beds in a few days and it is continuing to expand. MSF expects the ETU to grow to a capacity of 400 beds in a couple of days.
What was your first impression of the situation?
I think the situation is grave. But I am glad that MSF and other healthcare providers are there to help. MSF has highly trained staff to deal with the outbreak, and they have done this by setting up this ETU. In general, MSF handle infection control, care for the ill and offer counselling to the affected, and I think this is very useful.
How is the deployment of the lab there helping?
It is helping a lot because it ensures timely diagnosis. Just before we set our laboratory, MSF was faced with diagnostic turnaround issues since the samples were sent to the Liberian Institute of Biomedical Research (LIBR). The diagnostic facility at LIBR was run Liberian Ministry of Health staff alongside US-DOD and the US National Institutes of Health.. The DOD personnel had been mandated to train the local staff in diagnosis thus slow turn-around time. We set up our lab and were able to give back results within 3 hours of sample collection. Our laboratory team consists of both CDC and NIH staff. Both teams (CDC and NIH) perform independent assays, thus giving both screening and confirmatory results within a short period of time.
In your opinion, what do you think still needs to be done?
I think there is great need to deploy more skilled personnel to help contain the outbreak. There is even a greater need to train more Liberians on how to respond to the Ebola outbreak. Also importantly, I believe we do not need to isolate West Africa- I think having the airspace open will assist in responding to the outbreak by ensuring that medical supplies, drugs and personnel that are direly needed are able to reach the affected communities. I know Ebola is a big concern to other African governments but I believe if we tighten our surveillance at the port of entry for all arriving travelers, then African governments alleviate fears of Ebola spread into new territories.
Will you go back?
Yes if I am asked to go back I definitely will. However, I may not want to volunteer as I would also like to give other staff an opportunity to have the experience.