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Aussie and Kiwi nurses return from war on Ebola

Australia,New Zealand,Aspen Medical,Ebola Treatmen
Photo: Australia,New Zealand,Aspen Medical,Ebola Treatmen
The final contingent of Australian and New Zealand nurses and doctors will return home from combatting the world’s deadliest disease in Sierra Leone in early May.

The Australian Government has announced it will close the Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) at Hastings Airfield on April 30 due to a stabilisation of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with the number of new infections on the decline.

The news comes as a second New Zealand health care practitioner, who left Sierra Leone on April 15, is being tested for Ebola after developing minor symptoms while self-monitoring.

The practitioner has been airlifted to Wellington Hospital and is being cared for in one of the country’s four specialty isolation facilities while the patient’s blood samples are tested in Melbourne.

The Australian-funded ETC opened in December 2014 as part of the international response to the Ebola outbreak, which has now claimed more than 10,800 lives while there’s been more than 26,000 reported confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The centre, established by the United Kingdom and managed by Aspen Medical, has admitted 216 patients, with 36 successfully treated for Ebola, while another 120 patients presenting with Ebola-like symptoms have been monitored and discharged after being treated for lassa fever, HIV, malaria and gastroenteritis. There have been nine non-Ebola deaths at the ETC.

Three clinical incidents resulted in the precautionary medical evacuations of health workers at the ETC to the United Kingdom but no clinicians have contracted Ebola.

A total of 61 Australian and New Zealand nurses and doctors have worked at the ETC alongside 12 support team members.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop thanked the dedicated health care workers and congratulated Aspen Medical for its professionalism.

“No local or international staff employed at the ETC contracted Ebola, demonstrating the effectiveness of the ETC’s strict protocols and the quality of staff training,” she said.

The final Aspen Medical team members will depart Sierra Leone on May 3 after the handover to the UK Government.

Aspen Medical CEO Bruce Armstrong said Australian and New Zealand health professionals saved lives at the Australian-flagged ETC.

“We are proud of what was achieved over the past five months,” he said.

“Not only the 36 Ebola survivors but also the 120 survivors of other diseases that kill in Sierra Leone, who we were able to treat at the ETC.”

Mr Armstrong said the nursing team was on the frontline of the global war against Ebola in West Africa.

“They endured the most challenging conditions they have ever faced - having to wear PPE (personal protection equipment) in the heat whilst delivering care to the sick and dying,” he said.

“They needed to improvise, think on their feet and get on with it, and they did. We are grateful for their courage, their determination and their compassion.”

Aspen Medical created a two and a half day pre-deployment training program to educate and prepare health professionals being deployed to the Ebola frontline.

More than a 1000 health professionals from Australia and New Zealand initially applied to join the fight against Ebola.

Mr Armstrong labelled it an extraordinary response.

“Not everybody who applied was asked to deploy to Sierra Leone but the fact that they answered the call to head to West Africa to take on this deadly disease speaks volumes for their courage.”

More than 250 Sierra Leonean staff have also been trained at the ETC.

“Australia has left a legacy behind in Sierra Leone - highly trained local health care workers who know people can be cured and know how to protect themselves from infection,” Mr Armstrong said.

“The closure of the ETC will result in savings of $7.5 million which will be returned to the Australian Government and the Foreign Minister has indicated that these savings will be allocated to other urgent humanitarian priorities.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords