A medical worker sprays people being discharged from the Island Clinic Ebola treatment centre in Monrovia, Liberia.
A medical worker sprays people being discharged from the Island Clinic Ebola treatment centre in Monrovia, Liberia. Apjerome Delay

Local woman volunteering in Liberia to help tackle Ebola

FOR most people, the Ebola outbreak seems like something straight out of a zombie apocalypse film.

But former Ballina resident and epidemiologist Barbara Telfer has volunteered her skills to tackle the terrifying disease at the source.

Ms Telfer is in Liberia as part of the MSF team, or Doctors without Borders.

The organisation began its Ebola intervention in West Africa in March 2014 and is now operating in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, running five Ebola case management centres.

In an interview with ABC news radio, Ms Telfer said she was motivated to volunteer by humanitarian, ethical and professional reasons.

"There's three key reasons for me," she said. "The first is just purely human, I'm a human being and I really dread to see people suffering from a completely preventable illness.

"The second reason is professional. I have the basic public health and epidemiological training that is very useful in this kind of outbreak, so I feel I have the skills to assist.

"And the third is that a duty of care, as an ethical issue, is that I'm a health care professional and this is what I'm trained to do."

Ms Telfer said MSF missions were relatively short, with practitioners spending only five weeks in the field to prevent fatigue.

She said there were very strict protocols in place.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the largest in history.

So far, 8997 cases have been recorded by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, resulting in 4493 deaths.

Australia has so far contributed $18 million in aid to West Africa, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott says it would be "irresponsible" for the Australian government to send personnel into this dangerous situation without effective risk mitigation strategies in place.

However, Ms Telfer said she thought it was "critical" for Australia to respond to Ebola in West Africa.

"In Liberia and Guinea and Sierra Leone, there are very few human resources for health compared to the burden of disease," she said.

"In Australia we are comparatively very well resourced… and we also have an emergency response system to respond to crisis, so we have the capacity to respond. It's whether Australia has the will."


Ebola symptoms

  • Ebola virus can cause a serious illness, with a sudden onset of fever, muscle aches, weakness and headache.
  • The next stage may include vomiting, diarrhoea, sore throat, cough, rash and malfunction of liver and kidneys.
  • Cases may progress to multi-organ failure, sometimes with profuse internal and external bleeding.
  • Many cases will die of the disease, with the case-fatality rate for previous outbreaks ranging between 50-90%.

Source: Department of Health

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