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Duncan Selbie's Friday message – 7 April

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Dear everyone

I am writing this week from Sierra Leone, where PHE is training local staff to run the three laboratories that we established in Freetown, Makeni and Bo during the Ebola epidemic and will be handing over to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in September. On a 1,000 km round trip by road, I met PHE trainers Della Akhavein and James Rogers in Makeni and Michael Putland and Ola Miloszewska in Bo. Both teams were highly praised by local health officials and I had the privilege of presenting certificates to the students who have successfully completed their training. Our Freetown-based staff are also overseeing the refurbishment and modernisation of the laboratories at the Connaught Teaching Hospital, which will be ready by September.

We have always been clear that our partnership with Sierra Leone needs to endure well beyond the Ebola crisis if the systems developed are to be sustained. Some Ebola survivors continue to remain Ebola positive on semen testing and ongoing vigilance is essential for both Sierra Leone’s health security and for global health security, including the UK. The collaboration between partners in Sierra Leone is exemplary, and we met with the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the China CDC to ensure we are all aligned, including the China CDC team leader teaching on our laboratory training programme.

PHE will maintain a presence in Freetown for at least another year in order to quality assure the handover process, and we had very productive discussions with the British High Commissioner and the Department for International Development to agree this. We had the additional pleasure of meeting HRH the Princess Royal, who was visiting Sierra Leone – a further example of the strong ties between the UK and Sierra Leone and recognition of our shared history and interests.

Well North is a community action programme focused on 10 communities in the north of England with persistent poor health outcomes. Founded in 2014 by the late Professor Aiden Halligan, Well North brings together the statutory, voluntary and private sectors to strengthen the hand of local people in making decisions and finding new ways to help people achieve the things that really matter to them, essentially a place in a healthier and fairer society. Supported throughout by PHE, Well North published its first progress report yesterday, including the work underway to evaluate its impact by the University of Manchester. Do take a look.

On Tuesday the Department for Work and Pensions published Improving Lives: helping workless families, setting out their proposals to improve outcomes for the 1.8 million children growing up in workless families and facing multiple disadvantages. The paper recognises the importance of employment in helping people to a sustained recovery from drug or alcohol dependency, and we particularly welcome plans to implement the recommendations made last year by Dame Carol Black, including a robust trial of the Individual Placement and Support approach help those with dependency problems back into employment, which will help build the evidence base to better inform future commissioning.

I am delighted to welcome Professor Daniel Bausch as Director of the new UK Public Health Rapid Support Team, an HM Government-funded specialist team of health specialists run jointly by PHE and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who will be ready to deploy to tackle a health crisis anywhere in the world when needed. Dan is a specialist in emerging infectious diseases, with extensive experience in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Asia combatting deadly global health threats such as Ebola. He will lead the team in working with countries across the globe to stop the spread of deadly diseases, not only protecting the UK but playing a vital role at the forefront of global health security.

And finally, congratulations to Dr Justin Varney, our National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing, who will be presented with the David Harvey Award for his contribution to addressing LGBT health issues for health professionals and patients by the Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists (GLADD) at their Annual General Meeting on Saturday. This is a well-deserved and prestigious award.

With best wishes,

Friday messages from 2012-2016 are available on GOV.UK

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