Ebola Fight: Royal Navy Medical Ship Deployed to West Africa

RFA Argus file photo courtesy Royal Navy
RFA Argus file photo courtesy Royal Navy

The UK Ministry of Defence is ramping up its efforts in the fight against Ebola with the deployment of troops, equipment and a medical ship to West Africa as the World Health Organization warns that the outbreak could infect 10,000 new people per week.

This week, the MOD is preparing to deploy the RFA Argus on a mission to West Africa where it will serve as an offshore base for troops and medics working to set up an Ebola treatment unit in Kerry Town in Sierra Leone. The ship, a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship (PCRS) equipped with state-of-the-art medical facilities, will be loaded with hospital beds, troops, army medics and 3 Merlin helicopters to facilitate the rapid movement of key personnel and equipment to areas where they are needed the most.

While RFA Argus can carry out much of the same missions as a Hospital Ship, it is not designated as one as defined by the Geneva Convention and so it does not display the International Red Cross symbol. Argus is part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary so it is therefore civilian-manned.

The deployment of the ship, troops and helicopters is part of the UK’s Operation Gritrock, which aims to help up to nearly 8,800 patients over a 6-month period. The UK has also promised at least 700 new beds Ebola treatment facilities in West Africa.

BBC notes that the ship itself will not be used to treat Ebola patients, rather it will be used mainly to transport supplies and key personnel ashore.

“The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is already a global threat to public health and it’s vital that the UK remains at the forefront of responding to the epidemic,” said UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon last week in an emergency meeting with UK health officials and chaired by Prime Minister, David Cameron. “Following [Friday’s] meeting we are stepping up significantly the UK’s contribution and leadership in work to tackle the outbreak on land, in the air and at sea.

“At the heart of the package is the commitment to provide more than 750 personnel to help with the establishment of Ebola treatment centres and an Ebola training academy.

“We are deploying troops, helicopters and a ship – army medics and Merlin helicopters supported by RFA Argus – to provide direct support and reassurance.”

Specifically, the UK’s new pledge will include: a commitment to provide further personnel to the region who will join the engineers, logisticians and planners that are already on the ground to support the construction of the Kerry Town Ebola treatment unit; support for a World Health Organisation-led Ebola training facility to assist in the training of healthcare workers, logisticians and hygienists who are needed to staff treatment units; the provision of over 200 military staff to run the site; three Royal Navy Merlin helicopters and aircrew and engineers to facilitate the rapid movement of key personnel; and an aviation support ship that will operate as a forward base for our helicopters.

The move comes as a World Health Organization official said that the Ebola outbreak could infect up to 10,000 new people in West Africa per week by December, and that the rate death rate in the current outbreak has now risen to 70 percent.

According to WHO’s latest figures released October 10, their have been 8,376 reported cases of the Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and 4,024 deaths as of October 7.

The RFA Argus is expected to deploy this week from Falmouth, England.