Australia leans as Ebola spreads

In trying to sell his unpopular budget Treasurer Hoe Hockey said he wanted Australians to be “lifters not leaners.” Yet the Abbott government has been a leaner not a lifter during the Ebola crisis.

In failing to come to the aid of Ebola victims and join the international community in preventing the spread of the disease to the rest of the world, the Abbott government has failed to lead by example.

Public pleas for Australia to send health workers to deal with West Africa’s Ebola outbreak began in September and came from international relief agencies, international allies, peak nurse and medical bodies and the World Health Organisation.

After six weeks of asking the government to coordinate an appropriate Australian response, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) ran a five-day national poll of nurses.

It found 350 nurses who were willing to go to West Africa. Ninety per cent of the 1375 that responded to the poll said the Australian government should do more.

In September, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama asked Australia to send personnel. Further urgent requests followed in October.

At the same time as the Australian government was refusing to send medical aid to West Africa, tiny Cuba, regarded as a pariah state by the United States and its allies, increased the number of its medical workers in West Africa from 165 to 256. It has trained 460 nurses and doctors to undertake six-month missions.

Finally, on November 5, the Australian Abbott government announced an additional $24 million in aid, including $20 million to private provider Aspen Medical to establish a 100-bed treatment centre. Aspen said about 10 to 20 per cent of staff would be Australian.

But entry visas from West African countries where Ebola has occurred remain suspended, even though WHO says this will not stop the spread of the disease.

On November 15, speaking about Ebola at the G20 in Brisbane, Barack Obama said: “We cannot build a moat around our countries and we shouldn’t try.”

Also at the G20, as it seemed Mali could become a new Ebola hotspot, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Transmission continues to outpace the response from the international community. I urge the leaders of G20 countries to step up.”