Gallery: Colchester doctor shares his experience fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone

Dr Neil Studd

Dr Neil Studd - Credit: Archant

A doctor who spent four weeks of his holiday helping the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone has spoken of his “inspirational” experience.

Dr Neil Studd, in Sierra Leone

Dr Neil Studd, in Sierra Leone - Credit: Archant

Dr Neil Studd, 28, usually spends his time working at Colchester General Hospital in emergency medicine.

But the Colchester doctor gave up a family Christmas and his annual leave to spend a month volunteering with the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership in a hospital in the capital, Freetown.

Dr Studd, who also worked with Suffolk nurse Will Pooley and had his birthday while in West Africa, said his experience of working with patients of all ages and with a lot of them at once made him well-equipped to join the fight to contain the epidemic.

He said: “Driving through Freetown what is very striking is the level of poverty – they are some of the poorest areas in the world and it’s easy to see how disease spreads.

“People were trying to get about, business as usual.

“Apart from some posters and billboards it would be difficult to realise anything was going on.

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“This is very different to anything I have done before – I have worked in Africa and resource-poor areas, but this was very different.

“But when I arrived at the hospital it was a stark reminder, with posters commemorating staff who had died – nurses, doctors, heads of department – around the walls. It reminded me how dangerous Ebola is, striking down people of all ages and walks of life.

“There were some really distressing things going on at the hospital, but one of the pleasant memories I will bring back is the inspirational work the local nurses, cleaners and other teams were doing.

“Most of them have been hugely stigmatised in their communities, some asked to leave their homes, but every day they still turn up because they want to make Sierra Leone a great and beautiful country again.

“It is really inspirational. I’m used to working with some very hard-working and inspirational healthcare professionals in Colchester and it’s nice to see that ethos of wanting to help others in need goes right across the world.

“There’s a lot of people, particularly the local staff, who I will stay in contact with and speak to regularly to find out how they are getting on.

“They are doing a very dangerous job and one they have stepped forward to do, and it was really great to work with them and hopefully make a bit of a difference.

“They are the real heroes, and working alongside them was a real privilege and pleasure.”

He added that everyone at Colchester hospital had been very supportive of his trip.

“I’m very proud to work for a trust which has a global outlook, and I had a lot of messages from friends, family and colleagues which were very comforting, especially when faced with difficult decisions to make,” he said.

“We were face to face with the disease, it was all about trying to stay ahead of the game, and it was a lot of work.

“But the level of suffering makes this sort of sacrifice really insignificant.”

Dr Studd will have to wait another two weeks to return to work as he goes through an enforced 21-day period with no patient contact while the incubation period for Ebola passes, though there is no risk to the public here.

However he is spending the time going through data collected during his trip to help to try and identify patterns in the disease and demographics that may help further fight its spread.

Dr Studd said: “The situation is still pretty bad with a lot of people dying from Ebola.

“The health care infrastructure has all but collapsed and a lot of people have died unneccessarily because of a lack of facilities.

“Saying this some of the strategic level systems are picking up pace. There are some glimmers of hope on the horizon but a lot of work still needs to be done.

“I visited the district command centre at the British Council, and there were rows of whiteboards and maps tracking new cases in real time – it was like a war-time operations room.

“It is the first time the world has responded to an epidemic like this so lessons are to be learnt.”