Image from UK-PHRST deployment to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

At the end of March 2020, UK-PHRST in-person deployments to Africa CDC (Ethiopia), WHO Western Pacific Regional Office (the Philippines) and WHO Nepal to support the response to the emerging COVID-19 outbreak were cut short. This was due to the abrupt cessation of flights and rapid closure of borders globally. Despite the rapid change in location, the teams quickly adapted to remote working, continuing the support they had initiated with colleagues overseas. 

This coordinated package of remote support has continued alongside in-person deployments when possible, subsequently benefiting from the team’s ability to draw on additional expertise from the pool of reservists and extended team when required.

Summary of Key COVID-19 Response Activities 

Africa CDC

Initially an epidemiologist, infection prevention and control (IPC) specialist, social scientist and microbiologist were engaged directly at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) headquarters in Ethiopia. Since their return to the UK, a comprehensive programme of remote support has continued. Key areas include:

  • Epidemiology
  • Infection prevention and control
  • Laboratory
  • Social science

Read more: UK Public Health Rapid Support Team COVID-19 Response – Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention


We continue to build on previous UK-PHRST deployments as well as remote support to WHO’s Sub Office in Cox’s Bazar, with support from Field Epidemiology Training Programme (FETP) Fellows and UK-PHRST reservists. Key areas include:

Read more: UK Public Health Rapid Support Team COVID-19 Response – Bangladesh

WHO African Regional Office

One UK-PHRST field epidemiologist and two data scientists assisted WHO AFRO with analysis and interpretation of data gathered from across member states. The team supported WHO AFRO remotely and provided brief reports on the data that different countries had provided.

WHO Country Office (WCO) Tajikistan

In June, the UK-PHRST deployed one microbiologist and one epidemiologist on an assessment mission to determine the appropriateness, feasibility and likely impact of deployment of a Rapid Response Mobile Laboratory (RRML) to support the COVID-19 response. This was in response to a request for support through the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network for the Tajikistan Ministry of Health and Social Protection in response to increasing case numbers of COVID-19.

The Gambia

Following a joint rapid assessment on COVID-19 response with colleagues from Africa CDC, UK-PHRST deployed a team of four to support the scaling up of testing and contact tracing services and the improvement of data systems. This was a bilateral deployment in collaboration with the Ministry of Health with support from two epidemiology specialists and two laboratory experts, all of whom have now returned to the UK and will continue to engage remotely.

Read more: COVID-19 Surveillance in The Gambia 

Strengthening public mental health in Africa in response to COVID-19

Globally, mental health faces unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19.  Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.  National leaders face significant challenges in protecting and scaling up mental health support as part of the COVID-19 response. A recent WHO global survey indicated that 37% countries reported that COVID-19 mental health response plans were only partially funded and a further 37% reported having no funds at all.

The UK-PHRST “Strengthening public mental health in Africa in response to COVID-19” project, due for completion in March 2021, aims to better understand enablers and barriers to integrating mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). 

Read more: UK-PHRST Strengthening public mental health in Africa in response to COVID-19


Webinar: Introducing the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team - How we are supporting the COVID-19 response

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