As efforts to contain and eliminate the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa continue, countries around the world are making preparations to be ready in case the virus arrives. The Australian government is also making plans to deal with such an event. Ebola already exists in Australia – but fortunately (so far) only as the subject of research in the high security Australian Animal Health and Research Centre in Geelong to develop a vaccine. But how does Australian preparedness compare with that if other countries? And what would happen if Ebola cases were declared in Australia in the way they have already occurred in Spain and in the United States?
The official statement from the Australian Department of Health is that the risk of Ebola remains very low. Australia’s border protection system and public health monitoring procedures are the reasons given, as well as the infection control procedures in Australian hospitals. State and Territory Chief Health Officers have also given specific guidance to designated hospitals and staff for the isolation, test and treatment of Ebola. On the other hand, so far apparently no Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) has been formed to be ready to deal with such a case. An AUSMAT, generally speaking, is a multi-disciplinary health team with doctors, nurses, paramedics and other emergency workers that can be deployed at a disaster site to work with local response groups.
Neither has there been any news about preparedness exercises. By comparison, the UK government has already conducted live simulations of potential Ebola-infection incidents to test the effectiveness of public health and emergency response. Whether or not the Australian government runs such tests, enterprises would be well-advised to check their own possibilities for dealing with pandemics. From the IT basics of employees being able to work from home to proven policies on how to detect and deal with suspected cases of infection, this isn’t a panic measure for organisations. Instead, just like regular data backups and other precautions, it’s a matter of simple insurance against finding yourself exposed to a situation you have not planned for or cannot deal with.