Friday, 3 October 2014

Prof Allen Cheng: Are we prepared for Ebola?

School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine's Prof Allen Cheng has questioned the country's preparedness for Ebola in the event that the disease spreads to Australia.
In an editorial published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Prof Cheng and co author Prof Heath Kelly suggest that Australia's public health crises plan should look at how other countries have dealt with disease outbreaks in the past. 

"Centres of disease control in other countries were often established only after deficiencies in response were exposed by public health crises, such as SARS in Canada."

"We would do well to heed the lessons learned by other countries and be proactive in co-coordinating a consistent and outward looking response," the editorial notes.

Prof Cheng's editorial also calls for the implementation of a national disease control centre to deal with major public health threats such as disease outbreaks.

"Such a centre may also have an international role, especially in helping our Pacific neighbours prepare for and respond to emerging infections, for which the most effective response is containment at the source," the experts write.

"Perhaps this role should extend beyond countries thought to be in our traditional sphere of influence to countries that desperately need help now."

Since the outbreak of Ebola, Australia has committed $8 million towards efforts to combat the disease, however it has not sent health workers to West Africa where the disease is still spreading. 

Foreign minister Julie Bishop said that Australia does not have a safe evacuation plan if workers contracted the disease.

"I have made it quite clear that the Australian government will not put at risk Australian health workers without a safe and credible evacuation plan," she told AAP on Wednesday.

Despite this, the Abbott Government recently co-sponsored a unanimous UN Security Council resolution calling on all nations to contribute more, including qualified, specialised and trained personnel and supplies, attracting criticism from aid organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and the opposition government. 

Paul McPhun, the executive director of MSF Australia, said Australia's response to the outbreak had been extremely lacking. He also criticised Ms Bishop for saying earlier this week that Australia had not been invited by the World Health Organisation to do more than commit money.

"On the one hand we have Australia as a voting member passing a resolution calling on all countries of capacity to do more in West Africa and meanwhile it seems to be also saying that unless it's invited to do more it won't. It makes absolutely no sense," he said.

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