The global response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone helped avert 40,000 deaths but if aid had been offered sooner, thousands more lives there might have been saved, say researchers.
Britain’s donations of more than £100m in the summer of 2014 helped to set up nearly 3,000 hospital beds.
This vital provision, researchers estimate, prevented 56,000 Ebola cases.
But a further 12,500 cases could have been averted if the beds been available even a month earlier, they calculate.
The UK government insists that it did act swiftly and says the international community as a whole could have done more.
It’s not the first time the government’s response to Ebola has come under scrutiny.
In February, the Public Accounts Committee said funds had not been released quickly enough to deal with the crisis.
In the months following the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization was also heavily criticised for being slow to act.
Care and quarantine
The work from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published in the journal PNAS, details how much of an impact a delay in international aid may have had.
Researchers used a mathematical model to estimate how many cases of Ebola were averted thanks to foreign aid efforts that set up treatment centres where patients with the infectious virus could be quarantined and cared for.
From September 2014 onwards, more than 2,700 treatment beds were introduced in Ebola holding centres, community care centres and treatment units to support the overwhelmed health system in Sierra Leone.
The researchers calculate that these beds prevented some 56,600 cases of Ebola.
Had they been installed a month earlier, tens of thousands more would have been avoided.
With Ebola killing more than half of those it infects, thousands more lives would also have been saved.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the world’s deadliest to date.
The three West African countries at the heart of the Ebola epidemic have recorded their first week with no new cases since the outbreak began in March 2014.
But experts agree there is no room for complacency – experience shows that the disease could easily break out again.
To date, the UK has committed £427m to defeating Ebola.
A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development said: “Britain has been at the forefront of the international response to Ebola in Sierra Leone.
“By deploying NHS medics and military personnel and building treatment centres across the country, our swift action helped save countless lives and contain the spread of the disease.”