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Europe 'needs outbreak hit squad'

The UK and the rest of Europe must form a group of specialists ready to tackle outbreaks like Ebola, the man who discovered the disease almost 40 years ago has said.

Professor Peter Piot, who is currently director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a professor of global health, warned that exposure to future threats from viruses would remain unless action was taken.

He told the Independent: "It's time the UK and Europe had a well-trained corps of people who are globally experienced and deployable, specialists in outbreak control but underpinned by strong research and science. We don't have that and that makes us vulnerable."

The Belgian professor, who discovered the virus in Zaire in 1976 while working at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, spoke of his shock at the devastation the disease has caused, telling the paper he "couldn't imagine it would get out of control".

Ebola has claimed more than 7,000 lives in west Africa since the outbreak at the beginning of the year.

Prof Piot said poor health systems where the outbreak began meant a delay in diagnosing it, but added that the staggering spread since then was "avoidable".

The World Health Organisation has previously admitted that it was slow to deal with the spread of the disease, declaring it an international health emergency in August, only after around 1,000 people had died.

Of the efforts to treat and tackle the disease in recent months Prof Piot said: "The effort is paying off."

The UK has been a part of the aid effort in west Africa in many ways, including the deployment of hundreds of NHS staff and British troops, building treatment centres, providing emergency supplies and millions in funding.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The UK is playing a leading role in the fight against Ebola as part of a global response.

"NHS staff are supporting treatment centres across Sierra Leone to provide medical relief, and PHE have established three laboratories to provide rapid testing and diagnosis. Our scientists are also in the forefront of the development of vaccines to prevent the spread of this devastating disease.

"However the outbreak has shown the need to strengthen the global response to epidemics like Ebola and the UK will play its full part in taking this forward. No single country can do this on its own."

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