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Helping Ebola crisis strengthened my faith in human nature says UCLan scientist

18 February 2015

Lyndsey Boardman

Dr Ko one of first UK academics to volunteer for frontline Ebola aid

A scientist from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) who was one of the first UK academics to join a frontline Ebola diagnostic team in Sierra Leone has said his experience has “strengthened his faith in human nature.”

UCLan senior lecturer in medical sciences Dr Stan Ko (better known as Ko amongst his friends), an expert in the human immune system, volunteered to join the Public Health England (PHE) Ebola response deployment to establish diagnostic services in the West African country.

He and Professor Ian Goodfellow from the University of Cambridge were the first two academics from the UK deployed to undertake such a mission. They joined a team of scientists from the PHE and NHS, headed by Dr Tim Brooks with the assistance of lab manager Laura Grice, for a five-week deployment where the team tested over 400 clinical samples for the virus.

Ko, from the School of Medicine and Dentistry at UCLan, commented: “The situation surrounding the Ebola epidemic was alarming and when I saw the PHE appeal I was determined to help. Along with a specialist team of virologists I was deployed to set up a diagnostic lab from scratch in Makeni, one of the worst hit areas, following a week-long intensive training course at PHE Porton Down, Salisbury.

“We worked very well as a team to set up the field lab, put procedures in place and then checked meticulously before the live samples arrived. We all felt a huge sense of responsibility and were always there to support each other” he said.

“Academics have specialist skills that they can use to respond to a global crisis but beyond that we can use these experiences to inspire the next generation to make a valid contribution to society.”

Ko originally hails from Hong Kong and joined the British Army when he left school at the age of 18. After a couple of years of service he transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps and started his medical science career.

The scientist said that not only did he feel a moral duty to help with the global crisis but that the whole experience had led him to consider the importance of education from a wider angle.

“Academics have specialist skills that they can use to respond to a global crisis but beyond that we can use these experiences to inspire the next generation to make a valid contribution to society.

“In higher education, our focus falls primarily on the development of specialist and transferable skills in students’ academic and professional progression. We should remember the original meaning of education which is to nurture our next generation in taking up their roles in our society, not only locally, regionally but also from a global perspective.”

“It has been an absolute privilege to work with the team and other international and local volunteers. Between us, there was a sense of mutual admiration that we were all there to work towards a common goal.”

Determined to materialise his vision, Ko has already begun his campaign of networking with international aid agencies for their collaboration and is already seeing some successful outcomes.

He said: “Despite having their country affected by the Ebola outbreaks, people in Sierra Leone are working very hard to overcome the downturns with courage and determination. I was also overwhelmed by the whole international operation; seeing volunteers from so many nations work together for the greater good.

“It has been an absolute privilege to work with the team and other international and local volunteers. Between us, there was a sense of mutual admiration that we were all there to work towards a common goal.”

Ko, who lives in Rotherham, went to Sierra Leone with the full-support of his family, his colleagues and managers at UCLan.