Australia will not send any doctors or nurses to West Africa to help tackle the escalating Ebola crisis because the government will not force health workers “into harm’s way”, Tony Abbott has said.
The Australian prime minister praised those who have volunteered to work in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea with organisations like Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), but said his government would not be sending anyone itself.
The unprecedented Ebola outbreak has now killed more than 4,000 people in almost 8,400 registered cases, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.
The number of infections continues to rise exponentially, and without a cure or vaccine yet available experts have said the best way to stop the virus spreading is for the international community to get “feet on the ground” and tackle it at source.
Australia has committed $18 million (£9.7 million) of aid to buy equipment and supplies in West Africa since the current outbreak began, but has resisted calls to deploy its own health workers, the Guardian reported. By contrast, Britain has committed 750 soldiers and medics to the cause, and the US has acted similarly.
Speaking to reporters in Brisbane, Mr Abbott addressed the criticisms from MSF and Save the Children that his government’s response to the outbreak has so far been “underwhelming”.
“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,” he said.
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
1/7 25 March 2014
This outbreak of the Ebola virus first emerged in the Guéckédou region of Guinea, at a crossroads with both Liberia and Sierra Leone
2/7 31 March
On 31 March the WHO confirmed the outbreak was now international, spreading first into Liberia's northern-most Lofa region
3/7 27 May
The virus spread to Sierra Leone at the end of May - just as agencies were hoping the worst was over
4/7 27 July
In Sierra Leone the virus boomed, and then it spread to Nigeria when the Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew from Monrovia to Lagos
5/7 9 August
The Nigeria cases sparked fears around the world, and there have now been deaths in Spain and Saudi Arabia involving people who had travelled to West Africa. The numbers of cases continue to rise
6/7 17-20 September
In mid-September, Senegal confirmed its first case linked to the Ebola outbreak, a development the WHO described as a top priority emergency. Numbers of cases continued to grow exponentially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as experts warned they could number one million by January if not contained
7/7 8 October
Two cases of Ebola have now been reported in the US and Europe - the first times the virus has been contracted among health workers outside Africa
He added: “There’s a world of difference between praising the selflessness of volunteers ... and ordering Australian personnel to go into a situation without the kind of risk minimisation strategies that any responsible Australian government would have to put in place.”
Yesterday, the Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said that talks had broken down with a number of Western countries to arrange an evacuation plan in the event of a doctor, nurse or soldier contracting Ebola.
“I do not have in place a guarantee that should an Australian health worker — sent there by the Australian government — contract Ebola, they would be able to be transported or treated in a hospital either in the region or in Europe,” she told reporters.
“And until I have that in place we will not be sending Australian health workers,” she said.
Ebola has become an increasingly sensitive issue in Australia since it had its own scare involving an expected case of the disease.
Sue Kovack, a 57-year-old nurse who showed symptoms after returning to Queensland from Sierra Leone, has been in isolation in Cairns hospital since Thursday.
Initial tests came back negative, but a second round of testing was due to take place today and the hospital confirmed she would be quarantined at least until Monday.Reuse content