ACT News

Canberra company Aspen Medical to staff Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone

Canberra-based healthcare provider Aspen Medical will be at the centre of Australia's efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Australian government will contract the Deakin-based firm to staff a 100-bed British-built Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone, at a cost of up to $20 million until the middle of next year.

Helping: Glenn Keys' firm Aspen Medical will staff a 100-bed British built Ebola treatment centre.
Helping: Glenn Keys' firm Aspen Medical will staff a 100-bed British built Ebola treatment centre. Photo: Phil Hearne

About 240 staff will be needed for the centre, expected to open by the end of month with a mix of international staff and Australian paid volunteers, Prime Minister Tony Abbott saidon Wednesday.

Aspen Medical set up a clinic in Liberia's capital Monrovia, about 350 kilometres from Sierra Leone, several months before the Ebola outbreak with staff helping to provide frontline care as the nation's healthcare system struggled to treat non-Ebola related conditions.  

In September, chief executive Glenn Keys said the firm was in discussion with aid organisations and other countries about providing support for the epidemic and had been asked by the United Nations to provide extra staff in Ebola treatment facilities.

Mr Abbott said the government had chosen to use the private health provider as the Ebola outbreak was a "health emergency… not a military emergency".

"[It] is in keeping with our response to other overseas health emergencies such as cholera in our region," he said.

The Australian government contracted Aspen to assist in the emergency response to a cholera outbreak in Papua New Guinea in 2010 where staff from the firm worked alongside the World Health Organisation (WHO), according to its website.

Aspen also provided services on behalf of the Australian government in the Solomon Islands including emergency surgery to save the life of President Jose Ramos Horta after an attempted assassination in Timor Leste in 2008.

Mr Abbott said Aspen would decide the numbers of Australian workers in the Ebola treatment centre and would also be responsible for the treatment or evacuation of any staff who contracted the virus.

"Aspen will be required to ensure that any Australians who are involved in treating the Ebola victims in West Africa do serve a quarantine period in country before coming back to Australia," he said.

The company's website is asking medical professions to register their interest in joining its medical taskforce tackling Ebola in West Africa.

It is unknown if any Canberra-based medical professionals will be among the Australian volunteers expected to travel to West Africa.