What Australian politicians don’t seem to have been discussing is involvement in West Africa to assist with the growing, regionally devastating but globally relevant Ebola epidemic.
Since being identified in Guinea in March 2014 cases of infection spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, since June has been reported to be increasingly out of control, and has more recently spread to Nigeria (including cases in Lagos, a major global trade hub) and possibly Senegal. The World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in particular have been highlighting the inadequacy of the global response to this regional disaster for months now. The health infrastructure of these countries has been overwhelmed, as have organisations such as MSF: there are shortages of medical professionals, beds, protective gear, co-ordination… big problems which wealthy countries such as Australia can and should assist with. According to MSF:
It is clear that the Ebola epidemic will not be contained without a massive deployment of medical and disaster relief specialists from states. The governments of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone are doing everything they can to try to fight this epidemic. They desperately need international support. Their doctors and nurses having been dying and risking their lives on the front line of this outbreak
Providing funds is not enough. Available infectious disease experts and disaster relief specialists from countries with these capacities must deploy teams to the affected countries. In addition to a larger deployment of medical and epidemiological specialists, additional laboratory capacity for Ebola testing; ambulances and helicopters to safely transport samples and suspected cases; and supplies to ensure safe burials are needed immediately.
The Australian government has announced the contribution of $1 million to the WHO for the West African emergency response, however we should be urgently discussing what technical and logistical support we can provide to this unprecedented humanitarian emergency.