25 Aug 2014

Britain’s first Ebola patient ‘inspirational’, says friend

Nurse William Pooley, the first Briton to contract Ebola in Sierra Leone, is an “extraordinary guy” who was working at the “ground zero” of the outbreak, his colleague tells Channel 4 News.

The 29-year-old volunteer nurse was airlifted to the UK on a specially equipped military plane and landed at RAF Northolt in west London on Sunday night.

He is now being treated at the UK’s only high-level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London (pictured earlier this month, below) where his bed is surrounded by a specially-designed tent with its own controlled ventilation system.

Dr Oliver Johnson, programme director at the Kings Sierra Leone partnership, told Channel 4 New that Mr Pooley was an “extraordinary guy” who first travelled to Sierra Leone in the spring and then went to Kenema, the “ground zero” of the Ebola outbreak, to help (see video). “In the darkest days in Kenema, it was really his determination and leadership that motivated others to keep going there, and keep the hospital open,” he said.

Read more: The deadly spread of Ebola – clickable map

He said that other medical staff in the country had contracted the disease, and that there was an urgent need for more international assistance and supplies, to ensure that experts could keep the virus contained.

There is no cure for Ebola and outbreaks have a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent. An estimated 1,427 people have died in the recent Ebola outbreak which began in Guinea in March, and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. And as Mr Pooley was evacuated out of Sierra Leone, another case was identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the health minister said it was a different strain from that in west Africa.

Health experts in the UK said that the risk to the British public from Ebola was still “very low” and the Department of Health said Mr Pooley was not “seriously unwell”.

The first Briton to contract the virus this year was named by Dr Robert Garry, an American scientist who worked at the same hospital as him in Sierra Leone.

Mr Pooley is believed to have moved to Kenema from a hospice in the capital Freetown, when he heard that other healthcare workers had died from Ebola.

Dr Garry paid tribute to Mr Pooley’s decision to treat Ebola sufferers. “It’s a very honourable thing. He saw the need. He read about our nurses who were unfortunately dying there and took it on himself to come over and volunteer and learned how to be as safe as he could,” he said.

“But when you work hard like that, when you put in so many hours, you’re going to make a mistake and unfortunately that seems to have happened in this case.

“I just hope the best for him, that he can get the best treatment he can get. He’s a young man, he’s got a good chance. It was caught early.”

Risk ‘remains low’

Professor John Watson, deputy chief medical officer, said: “The overall risk to the public in the UK remains very low.” He added: “We have robust, well-developed and well-tested NHS systems for managing unusual infectious diseases when they arise, supported by a wide range of experts.

“UK hospitals have a proven record of dealing with imported infectious diseases and this patient will be isolated and will receive the best care possible.”

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection at Public Health England, reminded people that Ebola can only be transmitted via another contact with blood or other body fluid.

“As such, the risk to the general population remains very low,” he said, adding that strict protective measures are in place among those treating Mr Pooley.