‘Washington wants 100 Australians to run Ebola hospitals in West Africa’
The Sydney Morning Herald, 01.11.14, David Wroe and Dan Harrison
Washington has asked Australia to build three Ebola field hospitals in West Africa and staff them with about 100 doctors and support workers as part of a stronger global effort to tackle the crisis.
Fairfax Media has learnt that as part of a third and much more specific request to the Abbott government, Washington has also suggested Australia put a further $30 million towards the United Nations Ebola fund and provide airlift capabilities such as helicopters, as well as ground vehicles, emergency communications equipment and logistics.
But, most notably, it is asking for a specific contribution of health workers. For several weeks, the Abbott government has baulked at sending Australian medicos, citing a lack of arrangements to provide treatment to any Australian who might contract the lethal virus.
The US request is for Australia to build and staff three treatment facilities with 100 beds each. It is understood that to staff each hospital around the clock would require nine doctors and 24 support staff such as nurses, taking the total to about 100 health workers for the three facilities.
Washington is also offering for Australians to be trained at a facility the US Department of Defence has set up in Monrovia, Liberia – one of the two worst-affected countries along with Sierra Leone.
And it is offering to co-ordinate training and preparation through its main health agency, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
Fairfax Media understands the request, which took the view that Australia is “well positioned” to make such a contribution, was made on Thursday through the Australian Embassy in Washington and has been received by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
It is also understood that the National Security Committee of Cabinet will further consider any Ebola contribution next week, and that a decision may be made soon after that.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday that the government was “continuing to discuss with our friends and partners, including the USA and the UK, our response to addressing the situation in West Africa”.
Mr Abbott told Parliament during the week: “I certainly do not rule out Australia doing more.”
Australia has so far contributed about $18 million towards the crisis.
Washington has been ratcheting up the pressure on the international community to make greater contributions to solving the crisis, which has infected nearly 14,000 people and killed about 5000, making it the biggest outbreak in history.
The CDCP estimates that the number of cases in the two worst-affected nations, Sierra Leone and Liberia, is doubling every 20 days, and by January could reach 1.4 million.
Speaking from the United States, where she has been meeting with UN and US officials, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the request showed the Abbott government had done “nowhere near enough to respond to this serious global crisis.”
“If the Abbott government is serious about helping to get this crisis under control, there isn’t a moment to lose – it must immediately act on requests from our international partners to step up and do more,” Ms Plibersek said.
The White House also confirmed last week that President Barack Obama and Mr Abbott had discussed “additional commitments” in a telephone call last Wednesday.
After touring the Ebola-hit nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea this week, the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, took aim at some nations that she said were not doing their share to help combat the outbreak.
“This is a crisis that is so vast, with needs so great, with potential consequences so dire that no country can afford to stand on the sidelines. A few are doing a lot. But a lot are doing very little, or nothing at all,” Ms Power said.