news

8 reasons why we need to send Australians to help stop Ebola.

By AMY STOCKWELL

Over the past week a political debate has broken out about whether Australia is doing its fair share to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Ebola has now infected 9000 people and  killed more than 4500 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the number of Ebola cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia is doubling every 20 days, and by January could reach 1.4 million cases on present trends.

The world has a deadline of the next 60 days in which to effectively tackle this problem, the UN and WHO have said.

So why should Australia send help to West Africa?

An Ebola victim.

1. We have the expertise.

So far, Australia has committed $18M to tackle the spread of Ebola in West Africa. They have yet to commit any personnel or any other practical or logistical support.

Australia is home to some of the world’s best-trained health-care workers and medical scientists, so you might expect the Australian Government to be sending teams of highly qualified people to help – but, so far, the Government has been reluctant to commit.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said: “We aren’t going to send Australian doctors and nurses into harm’s way without being absolutely confident that all of the risks are being properly managed, and at the moment, we cannot be confident that that is the case.”

2. Money is not enough – they need people.

Funds are vitally important. Last month, the UN said at least $1B US is needed, at least.

However, the people of West Africa, the WHO, the UN and NGOs working on the ground have said that they also need health care workers to provide support to patients and public health experts to educate the public. They urgently need the building of treatment centres, plus the delivery of medical supplies and equipment. At a minimum, the UN says 19,000 doctors and nurses are needed to make a dent in the outbreak.

Both the UK and the President of the US have asked Australia to provide personnel on the ground in West Africa to physically do the work that needs to be done.

The Prime Minister told Parliament: “Yes, our partners and allies would like us to do more, and we are carefully considering those requests”.

3. There would be no need to ‘force people into harm’s way.’

The PM told Parliament that the reason that the government was not interested in sending personnel to the region is that “the safety of Australians must be paramount. The security of our region must be paramount and the security of our people must be paramount.”

ADVERTISEMENT

He said there was a world of difference between people volunteering to go to West Africa and people being ordered to go there to complete a mission. He says that there are no facilities in West Africa that could adequately handle Australian personnel if they were ordered to the area. Both of these points don’t seem to stand up when you consider (a) what other nations have been able to do (see above); and (b) the fact that people are ready and willing to go (see below).

The West Australian today quoted sources who say that the Australian Government is on the verge of an agreement with the UK that might see 12 government-sponsored Australian volunteer health care workers sent to Africa, but no military personnel. There has not yet been a government announcement on this issue.

4. Other nations are doing much more.

The US has committed 4000 military personnel, 17 new 100-bed patient care facilities, field hospitals, protective equipment, medical and emergency supplies, public health experts, and training for local health care workers.

The UK has announced that it is also sending military personnel to the region to assist, and is coordinating the deployment of frontline medical services and equipment.

The Chinese government has sent a mobile laboratory for testing for the virus and a 59-person team of epidemiologists, clinicians and nurses.

Cuba has sent 165 health professionals.

5. The best people want to go.

At the moment, some Australians have gone to West Africa to work with organisations such as Medicins Sans Frontiers and the Red Cross (30 people are there at the moment). But these organisations say they are at capacity – they can’t take any more volunteers.

It is reasonable for people to say that they do not want to go to West Africa, but there appear to be people who are willing to go and do this important work.

The Australian Government has Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) at their disposal, staffed with volunteers who have been trained by the Government for the purpose of being deployed in national and international situations.

The AMA has spoken to people who work for AUSMAT and they say that while there are people who don’t want to go to West Africa, there are people who are keen and willing to go – if only the government would let them.

6. There ARE ways to treat infected workers quickly, should they need it.

The Government says that its biggest predicament is evacuating Australians if they become infected. According to the Foreign Minister, evacuation to Australia is not an option due to the 30 hour transit time.

ADVERTISEMENT
Thomas Eric Duncan , the first US victim of Ebola.

However, other countries have made arrangements for their personnel to be treated in Africa or evacuated to Europe – and have offered to do the same for Australians.

The British are going into Sierra Leone to build a 12-bed facility on the outskirts of Freetown. This facility is dedicated to treatment of international health care workers. A number of infected health care workers have been evacuated to Europe and Germany has said that it will take international health care workers for treatment.

It would seem that finding ways to rescue infected health care workers has not been problematic for other countries – except Australia.

7. Australia is well-placed to deal with an infection case.

Isatta is a 22 month old girl who has survived Ebola in Kailahun.

Yes, there is a risk that an infected person might return to this country. This is in addition to the 75 people who come to Australia from Liberia every year. The incubation period of Ebola can be as long as 21 days without symptoms. Once people have symptoms, they are contagious and contact with their bodily fluids can spread the disease.

However, should Ebola arrive here, the conditions are vastly different to that in West Africa. In West Africa, people are dying in the streets covered in blood, vomit and diarrhoea. Contact with bodily fluids are a risk. The health system is overloaded and public information is poor.

Here, we have the resources, the facilities and the hospitals to isolate people properly and to make sure that the infection is contained and isolated. We have the public health officials that can do the proper contact tracing and surveillance. Person-to-person spread is not difficult to prevent in a modern hospital setting. Should the worst happen, our health systems are better prepared to deal with it than countries where health systems are rudimentary.

8. It would actually strengthen our national security.

In this case, Australia’s national security and their international obligations can line up. Dealing with Ebola in West Africa is the best way to prevent it from taking hold in our region. The risk to Australia is present, but small – and made even smaller by contributing to the international alliance combating the disease at its source.

It is important that the Australian Government keeps the community informed with accurate and helpful information, so that it’s possible for everyone to maintain their perspective on this issue. Malaria and tuberculosis have reportedly killed at least 300,000 and 600,000, respectively, since the start of the Ebola outbreak.

Australia should act immediately to support personnel to go to Africa and provide the kind of logistical support that only a government can. The roadblocks that the Australian Government has raised are being managed by other countries – it would seem reasonable that Australia could do the same.

Tags:
00:00 / ???