Nurses volunteering in West Africa to tackle ebola could in the future have access to a portable device that tests for the disease in just 40 minutes.
Laboratory techniques can take more than five hours to diagnose suspected ebola cases, but a research project has been launched to develop a new tool which is expected to analyse bodily fluids in a single process, making testing eight times faster.
Development of the device – called EbolaCheck – has been made possible through an extra £1.34m released jointly by the Department for International Development and health research charity the Wellcome Trust.
“These ground-breaking new research projects have the potential to transform understanding of the disease”
The money will be invested in five research programmes that aim to combat the outbreak, including the work investigating the portable, battery-powered EbolaCheck gadget – which will be led by the University of Westminster.
The first set of devices are expected to be deployed to EU or UK-supported treatment centres in Sierra Leone from May 2015.
Other programmes include one looking at how to improve advice and training for health workers in West Africa, which is being led by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Called the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform, it will see the development of home nursing guidelines and assist staff with communicating health messages. It will also support the modification of funeral practices in Sierra Leone to improve safety, and will assess perceptions of drug trials in West Africa.
The funding will also be used for research looking at risk perception and knowledge among frontline health workers to ensure that safety procedures and training are effective in reducing the risk of infection for patients and staff.
Another project, led by Oxford University, will investigate the future geographic spread of ebola in West Africa, informing how resources will be deployed to tackle the disease. This information will be updated and shared through an online tool.
Meanwhile, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will conduct a study looking at the number of ebola cases and deaths so far and what facilities will be needed to cope with future cases.
The £1.34m funding has been released from an existing £6.5m project called Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises, which is a joint initiative by DFID and the Wellcome Trust.
Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “Up until now, support for the Ebola outbreak has focused on improving public health measures by increasing facilities and equipment, and fast tracking vaccine and drug trials.
“However, without knowledge and understanding of local communities this life-saving work can often fail,” he said. “This funding will address that gap by training medical staff to engage effectively with local people about key issues, improving diagnostic tests and providing predictive mapping of the spread of the disease.”
International development secretary Justine Greening described the research projects as “ground-breaking,” noting the progress that had already been made to combat the disease following UK investment.
She said: “The UK has taken the lead in tackling this outbreak in Sierra Leone. The first of six British-built treatment centres is now open and British funding is trebling the number of treatment beds, supporting burial teams, researching a vaccine and providing vital supplies for thousands of health workers.
“These ground-breaking new research projects have the potential to transform understanding of the disease,” she added.