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.”