Australia bows to pressure to step up Ebola fight

Australia will provide A$20 million to staff a 100-bed treatment centre that will be built by Britain.

A Sierra Leone Red Cross burial team at Jobo Farm in Waterloo outside Freetown disinfects after recovering the bodies of those believed to have died of Ebola. Picture: EPA.

SYDNEY - Australia will fund an Ebola treatment clinic in Sierra Leone, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday, responding to pressure from the United States and others to do more to tackle the deadly outbreak at its West African source.

Australia last week became the first developed nation to issue a blanket ban on visas from the three most Ebola-affected countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, sparking widespread criticism.

Australia will provide A$20 million to staff a 100-bed treatment centre that will be built by Britain and run by Aspen Medical, a private Australian company.

"We anticipate about 240 staff required to do the job," Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

"Most of them will be locally engaged. Some will be international and it's quite possible, even likely, that some will be Australian."

Australia had already committed around A$18 million to fight the outbreak of the virus, but had been called on by US President Barack Obama, opposition lawmakers and medical bodies such as Doctors Without Borders to do more.

"There are many Australians who wish to volunteer to use their skills, committed and capable doctors and nurses who wish to help in the fight against Ebola," opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Oxfam also welcomed the move and urged the government to consider deploying the Australian military to help with logistics and other support.

Abbott's government had raised concerns that any medical staff infected with the disease would not have access to treatment and would face a dangerous 30-hour evacuation flight home.

Britain had given assurances that any Australian staff infected with Ebola would be treated as if they were a British citizen, Abbott said.

Ebola can take as long as three weeks before its victims show symptoms, at which point the disease becomes contagious.

Ebola, which can cause fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, spreads through contact with bodily fluids such as blood or saliva.

World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim on Tuesday criticised Asian countries for not contributing enough to the global effort to fight Ebola, despite having a wealth of trained medical personnel.

The World Health Organisation says the outbreak, the most deadly on record, has killed some 5,000 people. No cases have been diagnosed in Australia, although there have been a number of scares.

Abbott said Australia would step up measures at its borders to protect against Ebola entering the country, including requesting 21-day traveller history declarations, additional questioning and temperature checking of "passengers of concern".


The World Bank's president on Wednesday reported mixed progress in the fight against the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, pointing to encouraging signs in Liberia and a more worrisome trend in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Some 5,000 people have been killed during the current Ebola outbreak, the deadliest on record, with most of the fatalities in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

"There's some good news coming out of Liberia in terms of reduced number of cases, at least coming to the hospitals," World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday in Seoul.

"But then there is more concerning news coming out of Sierra Leone, where regions that were thought to be under control have now seen a surge in cases, and this is what we see with Ebola, we see drops and then we see surges," he said.

"So the effort is going to take a long time. The effort is going to require ... thousands of health workers and we need countries to step up right now to provide those workers so that we can begin really tackling the end game, which is to get to zero in each of these three countries," he said.


Police in Sierra Leone have jailed a journalist in the capital Freetown under emergency measures introduced to help the West African country cope with the Ebola epidemic, a senior police source said on Tuesday.

David Tam-Baryoh was sent to the Pademba Road prison on an executive order from the president, according to Chief Superintendent Ibrahim Koroma.

"The powers were derived from the Ebola emergency regulations the country is currently under," Koroma said, without detailing the charges against the journalist or specifying the length of his detention.

The arrest may be linked to comments made by Tam-Baryoh on his popular radio programme MONOLGUE in which he appeared to challenge arrests made last week in the Kono district after Ebola-linked riots.

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists condemned the arrest.

The country is one of the worst affected by the largest outbreak on record, with more than 1,500 victims.