A specialist West Sussex firefighter is being deployed to Bangladesh to help combat a deadly diphtheria outbreak.
Neil Graham, a member of the WSFRS Techical Rescue Unit (TRU), which is based in Horley and works across the county, will be part of a 40-strong team of doctors, nurses and firefighters being deployed from the UK’s Emergency Medical Team (EMT).
The 54-year-old, from Shoreham, is due to fly out from Heathrow on Saturday, initially for 21 days but with the possibility of other TRU members rotating with him on his return.
Thousands of lives are at risk from the rapid and deadly outbreak of diphtheria in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, which is home to more than 600,000 Rohingya people who have fled Burma.
This is the first ever deployment of Britain’s Emergency Medical Team since it was certified by the World Health Organisation in 2016 and follows a formal request for assistance from the WHO and the Government of Bangladesh, as there are currently not enough staff or beds to manage the outbreak of the deadly airborne virus.
The UK team will include five firefighters from across the country who, like Neil, form part of the UK International Search and Rescue Team.
West Sussex set up its Technical Rescue Unit in 2006. Since then the team has supported a number of significant international deployments including missions to Indonesia, Haiti, New Zealand, Japan and Bosnia. Our most recent overseas mission was to Nepal following a devastating earthquake in 2015, when, again, Neil flew out to help.
As well as providing vital humanitarian aid, international missions allow our staff to bring back vital skills for incidents closer to home.
The firefighters will be responsible for the transportation, accommodation and safety and security of the medical staff. They will also carry out work to improve standards within the refugee camps.
WSFRS Chief Fire Officer Gavin Watts said: “Our Technical Rescue Unit is regarded around the world for its specialist skills. We wish Neil all the best on this important deployment that we hope will save lives.”
Diphtheria is a fast spreading, extremely deadly infection, and there are a reported 160 new cases every day in Cox’s Bazar. It is especially dangerous for children, who are particularly vulnerable. It causes extreme difficulty breathing, inflammation of the heart which can lead to heart failure, problems with the nervous system and fatal paralysis.
West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is at the heart of West Sussex County Council's Communities and Public Protection Directorate, working to support communities to become safer, stronger and more resilient through a combination of prevention, protection and response activities.