A Scottish medic has told of her own Ebola scares while taking on one of the world’s deadliest diseases in a Congo war zone.

August 1 marked the first anniversary of the devastating outbreak, with the death toll at 2,000 and still rising.

And Aberdeen-born Dr Catherine Houlihan believes a new vaccine, developed with support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), has helped dramatically curtail the spread of the virus, with over 200,000 people now vaccinated.

Dr Houlihan – a clinical lecturer in Infectious Diseases and Virology for both the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and University College London has personal knowledge of the dangers of the deadly disease having just returned from a four-week stint in Congo. June.

“I had moments where I had exposure, a tear in my Personal Protective Equipment, I had a glove that came off, a kid that put their hand under my visor," she recalled. "Lots of alarming things happened.

“Before the vaccine, there were times in Sierra Leone when each of us was worried about the risk of exposure to Ebola inside the treatment unit.

"In the Kerry Town Unit, we trained all of the staff before anyone was allowed in, particularly about what to do if something happened, immediately stopping what you are doing, telling the colleague you went in with that you are leaving, washing any exposed area in chlorine.

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“We are quite well versed in how to react, but it does raise your heart rate a little at the time. For the 21 days after you get back your temperature is taken every day and you do not see any patients.”

The West Africa outbreak has killed more than 11,000 people between 2013 and 2016.

Initial results show the UK aid funded vaccine has proved 97 per cent effective.

And Dr Houlihan added: “I think that the vaccine is has changed the path of this outbreak. We could have already had a death toll similar to West Africa had we not had it.

“The data is showing that it is 97 per cent effective. Health care workers are one of the highest-risk groups for catching Ebola and this extra protection enables them to carry out their roles far more effectively.”

The 39-year-old medic returned in June from helping tackle the world’s second worst Ebola outbreak in Goma and Butembo in Congo’s war-torn North Kivu province, where over 120 militia groups operate.

Efforts to contain the deadly virus have been hampered by violent attacks on health workers and treatment centres. Two Ebola health workers were killed last month in North Kivu and WHO reported 42 attacks on treatment centres between January and May.

Dr Houlihan said: “The braver people than us are always the local staff who were there from the beginning and kept returning to work despite the dangers of this highly fatal infection or from community violence.

“International responders mostly work six weeks at one time and have the reassurance that if we get sick, we would be medevaced back to the UK, with all the high-level care that offers.

“At the isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London, where I’m currently working, everything you might need to treat patients is available whereas the resources available in Sierra Leone were very different.

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Dr Houlihan, who was also in Sierra Leone twice during the West Africa outbreak, says the dangers have not deterred her from wanting to help.

She said: “Before the 2014 Ebola outbreak, I’d spent two years living in Tanzania and am a trained infectious diseases and virology doctor, so I think my family had a resignation that I’d want to help.

“When I arrived in Sierra Leone early in the outbreak in June 2014, I saw some of the worst things that I have ever seen or ever want to see again in my life.

“There were children whose parents had died but who had nobody to feed them because staff couldn’t go in because of the risk of catching Ebola. At that time, my work with WHO involved providing care to patients in terms of fluids and antibiotics, strengthening the setup of the isolation unit and supplies of protective equipment and running safety training to enable staff to do what they wanted to do; help their patients.

“Now, using lessons learned, the level of clinical care being provided in treatment centres is very different from the early days in Sierra Leone.

“We are also seeing increased involvement of survivors who spend their time inside the treatment units assisting those who need it.

“There are now medications for Ebola, two of which have been shown to be effective after clinical trials were run during the outbreak in DRC. Running trials during an outbreak in a resource-poor and unstable setting is an incredible achievement.

“Health care workers are still at risk in the DRC though. Five per cent of all cases in the DRC are health care workers. A further two health care workers were infected last week. Usually, these are not people working in Ebola treatment centres, they are the people who work in other smaller health facilities who should have been vaccinated.”

Dr Houlihan said the disease was not the only cause for concern during her time in Congo.

“The security situation in DR Congo is the biggest difference between this outbreak and the West Africa one," she said.

“Certainly, doing visits to small health centres outside of Goma wasn’t a comfortable journey, knowing that you might meet armed militia and that health workers have been targets.

“We drove past people carrying a gun and it was sometimes a struggle to tell whether they were the army or Mai Mai militias if they were wearing camouflage gear. It was more anxiety provoking than my previous experiences.”

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The UK has been at the forefront of the international aid response and is calling for other countries to do more.

International Development Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Ebola has already taken far too many lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Shockingly it has wiped out entire families and, a year after this outbreak started, it is showing no sign of slowing down.

“The UK has led the way in tackling this killer disease and we can be proud of our support to create a life-saving Ebola vaccine which has inoculated 200,000 people so far.

“Diseases like Ebola have no respect for borders. This could be spread beyond DRC. It is essential the rest of the international community steps up to help. If we don’t act now, many thousands more lives could be lost.”

UK has been at the forefront of the international aid response and is calling for other countries to do more.

International Development Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Ebola has already taken far too many lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Shockingly it has wiped out entire families and, a year after this outbreak started, it is showing no sign of slowing down.

“The UK has led the way in tackling this killer disease and we can be proud of our support to create a life-saving Ebola vaccine which has inoculated 200,000 people so far.

“Diseases like Ebola have no respect for borders. This could be spread beyond DRC. It is essential the rest of the international community steps up to help. If we don’t act now, many thousands more lives could be lost.”