Carlton Cole and Nathaniel Clyne of the Premier League are behind a fundraising reception to help tackle ebola in Sierra Leona and those orphaned by the virus

Football is famous for the astronomical wealth of its elite players, rather than for its altruism. Nor in general, is it linked to noble causes. Yet two stars of the Premier League have thrown their weight behind frontline services battling against what is still one of the world’s gravest health catastrophes – the ebola virus.

West ham striker Carlton Cole, and England International defender Nathaniel Clyne of Southampton FC, hosted a reception and fundraising auction for the great and good in glitzy Knightsbridge earlier this week, in aid of the King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, an initiative which is at the forefront of tackling ebola in that country. The hope is that the football community – both players and supporters – will come together in a stand against the disease.

Ebola has so far been responsible for over 10,000 deaths since the latest outbreak, the world’s worst, began over a year ago. But as fears of it spreading to other countries recede and the number of new patients fall – only 30 cases of the virus were reported earlier this month – it no longer makes the front pages. However experts warn that the battle against ebola is not yet over. Until the virus is eradicated there is little room for complacency.

“Things are improving, certainly’ says Dr Brendan Healy, a consultant in microbiology and infectious diseases at the University Hospitals of Wales. “But there is always a risk that they can flare up again.” Dr Healy, who recently worked as a volunteer in the country’s capital, Freetown adds:” We have to make sure we get to zero cases as quickly as possible.’

Cole, 31 who along with Clyne is an ambassador for the charity Football Fighting Ebola, hopes to visit Sierra Leone later this year. He has personal reasons for getting involved: although he was born in London, his mother Selina is from Sierra Leone and he still has other family and friends there, where a three day lockdown at the end of March saw the entire population was ordered to stay at home.

“It’s hard because I know they are suffering,” he says. I feel extremely guilty actually because my uncle – he’s actually in Freetown because of me. He went over to rebuild the family home and because there are no planes flying out at the moment it’s now difficult for him to come back.”

Students learning how to put on personal protection equipment when dealing with Ebola – Will Wintercross/The Telegraph

King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, part of the King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre, operates out of the capital Freetown. Initially set up to help local communities develop their own healthcare systems, it took a more frontline role when the ebola crisis hit the country last year, helping to develop holding centres to assess and screen suspected cases.

“Although one of the primary goals is to eradicate ebola as quickly as possible, even after that there is lots of work to be done in terms of rebuilding the country, rebuilding the healthcare infrastructure and a healthcare system which is able to respond to a similar problem in the future,” says Dr Healy.

“The healthcare workers who stayed in the country during the epidemic are the real heroes. Not just the international staff. We have 60 national staff working with us. Not only did they face a threat to their life from the disease, but they faced the risk of violence everyday.”

One problem which has been repeatedly highlighted for its high risk of spreading the disease is the traditional ritual of washing and kissing the body of the deceased. Dr Atish Patel, a doctor with the partnership who has recently worked in Sierra Leone says:

Will Wintercross/The Telegraph

“In the early days of the crisis, the health workers who tried to remove the bodies of those who had died from Ebola faced a huge backlash from local communities who were mourning their loved ones. There has since been a huge effort to communicate the dangers to people, which is working.”

Cole – who is out of contract with his current club in May and believed to be looking for a new deal – – believes that communication has been vital in slowing down the spread of Ebola. “Honestly, it’s all about education,” he explains. “I don’t want to place any blame but there is an extremely strong sense of tradition and culture in Sierra Leone. It has been hard to convince people over there that letting go of their traditions would benefit them in the long run.”

During our interview Clyne sits quietly, seemingly content to let Cole to do most of the talking; yet his face will certainly generate interest in the campaign. With a possibly move to Manchester United in the summer, Clyne’s name is the hot ticket and over the past year the hype surrounding his potential has grown exponentially.

“It’s a great cause and I’m happy to be involved” he says.

As well as raising funds for King’s Sierra Leone Partnership, part of the proceeds from last week’s swanky reception will be going to the Carlakka Foundation, set up by Cole and his mother, originally to build a school in Freetown’s Lakka village. Although, he adds, so many children have been left without parents by the disease, that the current plan is to build an orphanage.

(Source: The Telegraph)

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