2014–16 ebola epidemic

The 2014–16 Ebola epidemic had global impact. The World Health Organization (WHO) first reported cases of Ebola in Guinea in March 2014 and the epidemic was traced back to a 2-year-old child in Guinea, who died of the disease on 28 December 2013.

The UK context

In July 2014, in response to an increased focus on the potential spread of the Ebola virus, the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, confirmed that ministers had discussed precautionary measures to deal with the virus should UK nationals contract the disease in West Africa. At the time of the outbreak there was no vaccine ready, or any cure. However, Hammond suggested that the threat to the UK was small, stating that 'it is not about the disease spreading in the UK because we have, frankly, different standards of infection control procedures that would make that most unlikely'.

'A public health emergency'

On 8 August 2014, WHO designated the West Africa Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

The first UK citizen to contract Ebola was nurse William Pooley, who was flown back from Sierra Leone to the UK for emergency treatment on 24 August 2014. The Democratic Republic of Congo announced that it was suffering from an Ebola outbreak 2 days later, and it was later confirmed as a different virus strain to that which was affecting countries in West Africa. On 29 August, Senegal became the fifth country to suffer an Ebola outbreak.

The international community's response to the epidemic was criticised as being slow and irresponsible by Médecins Sans Frontières and the WHO.

On 7 October a Spanish nurse became the first person to contract the virus outside West Africa. This raised the alarm in Europe as to whether European countries were prepared to cope with the virus. A month previously, the first person had been diagnosed with Ebola on US soil.

UK response

On 9 October, as a measure to protect public health, the UK announced that it would introduce temperature screening for passengers travelling from West Africa arriving at Gatwick and Heathrow airports. The threat from Ebola to the UK remained small, with the government releasing a statement which stated that 'the risk of Ebola to the general public in the UK remained 'very low''.

Nurse Pauline Cafferkey was the second UK citizen to be infected with the Ebola virus, and was diagnosed upon her return from Sierra Leone on 29 December 2014. She was treated with blood plasma from an Ebola survivor and with an experimental treatment drug closely related to the drug ZMapp, with which UK nurse William Pooley was also treated.

On 9 February 2015 the UK government announced that it would be giving nearly £33 million to a new fund to help relieve pressure on countries affected by the Ebola virus.


On 26 March 2016, the WHO lifted the PHEIC status on West Africa’s Ebola situation. In total, 28,652 cases of Ebola and 11,352 deaths were reported. 10 countries were affected during the epidemic, with the majority of cases and deaths reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.


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