4:48 am - Thursday November 5, 2015

Aussies fighting Ebola ‘wouldn’t survive flight home’

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Australia can’t deploy health workers to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa because other countries are refusing to guarantee suitable evacuation and treatment if any become sick.

The federal opposition has demanded the government lift its game and send medical workers before the world loses control of the deadly virus, which has claimed almost 4500 lives this year.

So far the Australian government has contributed $18 million to tackle the outbreak, on top of its annual $40 million contribution to the World Health Organization.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues to resist calls to send people.

“It would be a little irresponsible of an Australian government to order Australian personnel into this very dangerous situation if it didn’t have effective risk mitigation strategies in place,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne.”At the moment there is no way of doing that.”

Health Minister Peter Dutton confirmed there was no commitment from other countries to treat Australian health workers.

The UK, US and Germany were only repatriating their own citizens.

“We don’t believe … that an Australian health worker put into harm’s way in West Africa would survive a 30-hour flight back to Australia,” he said.

He pointed out some European countries, only a few hours by plane from the outbreak zone, had decided not to send medical staff.

Australia is trying to secure a deal to evacuate defence and health personnel from west Africa to a treatment facility within five hours.

The dozens of Australians working with non-government bodies have their own evacuation and treatment plans organised by their employers.

Australian ambassadors have been talking to the UK, European and US governments over the past few weeks about getting what senior officials describe as a “political agreement” to evacuate and treat Australian defence or health personnel.

But an agreement has not yet been provided by any of these governments.

One senior official said a multilateral agreement backed by the US and the EU could be another solution.

Another possible solution is treating the Australian workers in Africa, but suitable facilities aren’t yet built or organisational structures in place to ensure quality of care.

Mr Abbott maintained Australian hospitals were well prepared to receive any Ebola patients that might get here.

There have been 11 suspected cases in Australia, all of which were false alarms.

The prime minister said Australian hospitals may be called on to provide back up support if there was outbreak in Asia Pacific countries which had weaker public health systems.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek is not satisfied by the government’s actions and cited the UN’s warning that there was a 60-day window for the world to turn the situation around.

If the spread of the virus was not addressed there was a risk it could infect 1.4 million people by 2015.

“We could and should and must do better,” she said.

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