Australia

Ebola outbreak: Abbott urged to send Australian health workers

Volunteers in protective suits bury the body of a person who died from Ebola in a village outside Freetown, Sierra Leone - 7 October 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Australia's foreign minister has said the situation in West Africa is too "risky" for Australian health workers

The Australian government is facing more criticism for not sending health workers to Africa to help fight Ebola.

A 25-bed US field hospital that will treat international health workers who contract the virus is due to open soon.

The Australian government now has no excuse not to fund health workers to travel to Africa, said Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King.

"It is now up to the Abbott government to act," Ms King told journalists in Canberra on Friday.

Australia has so far refused to send health workers to Africa because it says it could not evacuate and treat them if they got infected with the virus.

It has provided A$8m (£4.4m) to frontline services and A$40m (£22m) to the World Health Organization and has not ruled out increasing that contribution.

'A risky situation'

"We will not be putting Australian health workers in a risky situation in the absence of evacuation plans and an appropriate level of medical care and we cannot currently supply that," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last month.

But the Australian Medical Association, the Public Health Association, the Healthcare and Hospitals Association and non-government organisation Medecins sans Frontieres have all called for the Australian government to substantially increase its contribution.

Sierra Leone and Amnesty International have condemned Australia's decision to suspend entry visas for people from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa as "counterproductive" and "discriminatory".

Ms King said there was a split in Cabinet about its response to the crisis, with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison "taking charge" and Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Health Minister Peter Dutton losing control of the debate.

Nearly 5,000 people have died of Ebola so far. More than 13,700 people have been infected in total, the vast majority in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.


Ebola virus disease (EVD)

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Media captionHow Ebola survivors’ blood is saving lives
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% - but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 70%
  • No proven vaccine or cure
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus's natural host

Ebola special report