Too risky to send people to assist with Ebola: Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there were dozens of Australian doctors and nurses working with non-government agencies in the fight against ebola. AAP/Phillip Biggs

Tony Abbott says the government won’t send doctors and nurses to help with the Ebola crisis without being “absolutely confident” all the risks are being properly managed.

“At the moment, we cannot be confident that that is the case. That’s why there are no plans send Australian doctors and nurses, to order Australian doctors and nurses to go to west Africa,” he said today.

Medical experts are calling for the government – which is providing $18 million in funding – to send help in kind.

A letter being organised by the Public Health Association and signed by health professors from around the country will go to Abbott this week. It calls for troops and equipment and a medical assistance team to be sent.

The letter says: “We understand Australian government concerns about the need to be able to appropriately evacuate and treat infected health care workers, but this is not a reason for a minimalist response. Other governments have found workable solutions”.

The CEO of the association, Michael Moore, said today it was not that hard to transfer any health worker suspected of being infected. Australia was able to work closely with allies to move seriously injured soldiers to allied facilities in places such as Germany. Moore, formerly an independent member of the ACT legislative assembly, was health minister in a Liberal government.

Abbott told reporters in Brisbane that there were dozens of Australian doctors and nurses in the west African area working with non-government organisations.

“I really admire the selfless humanitarianism that they are showing. But there is a world of difference between praising the selflessness of volunteers who are going over there and ordering Australian personnel to go into a situation without the kind of risk minimisation strategies that any responsible Australian government would have to put in place.”

It would be “irresponsible” for the government to order people “into harm’s way without all appropriate precautions being in place, and at this time they simply aren’t and they can’t be”.

Abbott said cabinet’s national security committee had considered the Ebola outbreak on a number of occasions. The government was very confident that all states had effective measures in place to deal with any cases that came to Australia. People arriving from west Africa were being screened and “we are considering plans for what to do should there be an outbreak in his country or in our region”.

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