A FIREFIGHTER from Hampshire is being flown out to Bangladesh as part of a British effort to combat a deadly outbreak of diphtheria.
Simon Forster, watch manager of the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, is one of five firefighters who will be working with doctors and nurses in a bid to save thousands of lives in the impoverished country.
The dad-of-two from Farnborough will be part of a 40-strong team who will be treating and immunising people against the deadly airborne virus.
The 44-year-old will be working through UK International Search and Rescue (ISAR) as part of the UK’s Emergency Medical Team (EMT) after it was requested by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Government of Bangladesh.
This is the first ever deployment of the UK’s EMT since it was certified by WHO in 2016.
He said: ‘You join the fire service because you want to help people when something like this happens – this is what we are trained for.
‘It is hard to know what the conditions will be like so it is best to keep an open mind – it is hard to imagine temporary hospitals being built out of bamboo and a refugee camp that is 20 square kilometres.
‘We will be working to stop the spread of this deadly virus and treat those who have it – we want to help as many people as we can.’
Watch Manager Forster, who was previously deployed to Nepal after the 2015 earthquake, will be dealing with logistics to support the medical workers. He has been deployed for 21 days.
The firefighters will be organising the transport and the setting up of equipment, creating an infrastructure, communications, route finding and navigating as the medical teams travel between the refugee camp, two settlement camps and operate a roving unit.
This will be an absolutely critical deployment, in a race against time for men, women and children at risk of dying from one of the world’s cruellest infections.Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP and international development secretary
Up to 160 new cases were being reported a day in the popular tourist city Cox’s Bazar which is currently home to about a million displaced people who have fled the violence and military persecution in Burma.
There are currently more than 2,000 suspected cases and more than 20 reported deaths.
The UK’s Department of International Development are providing vaccines.
Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, has welcomed the deployment.
The Portsmouth North MP said: ‘This will be an absolutely critical deployment, in a race against time for men, women and children at risk of dying from one of the world’s cruellest infections.
‘Our brave British medical heroes are the world leaders in saving lives, acting rapidly in crisis to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
‘I have heard first-hand the harrowing stories of Rohingya families who have escaped persistent persecution, violence and tragedy.
‘In the face of this new horror it is absolutely right that we step up to end their relentless suffering and stop them falling prey to a rampaging, preventable disease that could kill thousands.’
Diphtheria is a fast-spreading potentially deadly infection that causes extreme difficulty breathing, inflammation of the heart, problems with the nervous system and paralysis.
Group Manager Jerry Leonard, who has been a member of UK ISAR since it was founded, said he was proud that Watch Manager Forster was being deployed.
He said: ‘The team are highly skilled and Simon is one of four to have taken on additional training to enable him to be deployed to assist with medical interventions as well as natural disasters.’