'Further urgent action' needed from Aust on Ebola crisis

10 September, 2014

The Australian government must take further concrete actions to support the World Health Organization's (WHO) Response Roadmap to the Ebola outbreak, major health lobby groups have said.

"The Ebola virus outbreak was declared a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern' on August 8th, and WHO released an Ebola Response Roadmap on August 28th to guide the international response," said Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the PHAA. 

"It contains a comprehensive range of measures, designed to end the outbreak in 6-9 months and prevent further international spread, at an estimated cost of US$490 million dollars. 

"However, up to this point, the international community, including Australia, has not responded with sufficient resolve to support the affected countries.

"We welcome the announcement, made on August 24th, from the Hon Julie Bishop MP … of an extra $1 million to the WHO to support their response. 

"But in light of the escalating crisis, more now needs to be done." 

Three-step action plan

Moore said the PHAA had been in contact with various parliamentary representatives – including Shadow Minister for Health, Catherine King, and Australian Greens Health spokesperson, Richard Di Natale – and both had shown support for non-partisan effort on Australia's behalf.

He said the PHAA was calling on federal government to respond to the UN call by immediately providing more financial assistance; actively consider the request from WHO for the deployment of an AUSMAT (Australian Medical Assistance Team) as part of the strengthening of medical capacity in the region; and support Australians who had volunteered through international non-government organisations by encouraging employers to provide special leave, continuation of entitlements, and the like.

"Turning point" in global public health

Moore said: "In years to come, this crisis will be seen as a turning point in international public health. As the time when we demonstrated that we really do act as a global community, with better off nations supporting those less well off, in a coordinated fashion through the WHO. 

"Or as the time when we looked away, secured our borders, and left those at greatest need to fend for themselves."

Assistance is Australia's duty as "global citizen"

AMA President A/Prof Brian Owler reiterated the call for an immediate and necessary response, saying as a "global citizen" it was the nation's duty to help contain the spread of the disease and assist countries that were affected.

"We are witnessing an evolving international humanitarian crisis," he said.

"The AMA acknowledges the recent commitment of $1 million by the Australian government, but it is clear now that much more needs to be provided.

"A priority would be to get skilled medical and health professionals – with medical equipment and medicines – on the ground as soon as possible.

"If the government can get military arms airlifted to northern Iraq at short notice, surely we can airlift medical arms and legs to West Africa just as quickly to save lives.

"The Ebola emergency is on the verge of becoming a major international public health crisis.

"Australia and other developed nations must show leadership and act immediately to provide greater support to WHO and the people of West Africa affected by this human tragedy."