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Scientist Amanda - the angel of Sierra Leone - speaks of fight against Ebola virus

By Victoria O'Hara

A Northern Ireland scientist has spoken of her time spent in West Africa helping to fight the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Amanda Moffett was the first biomedical scientist from the province to be picked by Public Health England to work on the front line in Sierra Leone.

The outbreak has killed more than 11,000 people since the first confirmed case in March 2014. Today the number of cases is finally slowing down, with Liberia declared free of the virus, but it is still claiming victims, including young children.

The 31-year-old, originally from Monaghan but now living in Maghaberry in Co Antrim, has previous experience working in West Africa but described her five weeks in Sierra Leone as "emotional but also amazing".

"There was a village very close to the treatment centre that had an outbreak. It had to be cordoned off and there were a lot of small children who were positive for Ebola," she said after making the journey in February.

But through her work in an isolator testing for Ebola and malaria on the site, medics were able to check for the Ebola allowing them to act quickly and save more lives.

"They used to have to send them (the tests) to Europe and the turnaround times were four or five days," she added.

Amanda made the journey after a week's intensive training at the Porton Down Reference Lab in Salisbury, England, and was placed with the International Medical Corps, which runs the Ebola Treatment Centre. Due to get married to her fiancé Graeme Brown (29) in October, she said both he and her family were at first worried about her safety, but realised it was something she felt passionate about.

"For me I didn't have to think about going, but it was different for my family and my fiancé. But he did watch a programme about what would have happened in an outbreak if people didn't help."

Amanda, who works in the microbiology laboratory at Craigavon Area Hospital, said among the hardest moments was seeing the young children who lost their lives to the deadly virus.

"There was one wee girl, she was about three. She was in the treatment centre and was negative and sent to a holding centre but caught it from another girl she had been playing with. You just knew she was so small there was little hope for her.

"There were also two six-year-olds who got released. They were the youngest to survive it and it was amazing to see them coming out. But it was bittersweet and really emotional because it was amazing they survived, but probably lost most of their family. But I would go back and hope I have helped; what I did was just a small wee drop in the ocean of what needs to be done."

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