Expert: Australia Can't Protect Itself From Ebola By Hiding Behind The Border

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Developed countries such as Australia cannot protect themselves from the Ebola virus by retreating behind borders, says Tim Inglis, an Australian microbiologist about to go to West Africa.

He argues that the debate in some developed countries over how to respond to the virus crisis is being undermined by media hype and political panic.

Isolated cases of Ebola brought home by health workers and support staff can be effectively dealt with and are an acceptable price to pay for tackling the disease at its source, he says.

The Australian Government doesn’t want to send help until there are provisions for the prompt treatment of any citizen who becomes ill.

In a World View article in the international journal Nature, Tim Inglis of the University of Western Australia says the threat posed by a few imported cases is low.

“The real issue is that the threat to Australia, the United States and other developed countries will be much higher in six months,” he says.

“The best defence is to act now and in Africa.”

Inglis and his colleagues plan to take a mobile laboratory to the affected region to assist efforts to diagnose the disease at the fringes.

“Past experience has shown me that effective infection control needs a strong grounding in science,” he says. “Scientists are needed at the front line. The risk is worth it.”

Dr Jennifer Todd, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Health & Society at the University of Wollongong, says she agrees with the proposal to forward-place lab capabilities and medical countermeasures in an attempt to stop the spread of the Ebola virus.

“Containing the virus is the only way we will keep it from jumping to other countries via wild secondary cases, or mutating virus,” she says.

“We must move not at bureaucratic speed, but at viral speed if we have any hope of staying ahead of this pathogen.”

She says scientists and healthcare workers should be lauded for their courage in going into the hot zone, rather than being criticised for unnecessary risk.

“I am quite sure that, if we were dealing with an outbreak of Marburg virus (another equally deadly viral haemorrhagic fever), the reaction by both the public and policy makers would be different,”she says.

“The word ‘Ebola’ evokes a visceral response in people, one which should be managed by policy-makers with information and smart risk communication rather than fear-mongering.”

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