ACT News

Canberra hospitals prepare for the unlikely case of an Ebola outbreak

Health specialists in Canberra's hospitals donned protective gear on Thursday morning to prepare for the unlikely outbreak of Ebola in the ACT.

ACT acting chief health officer Dr Andrew Pengilley said the training exercise was organised to test the preparedness of Canberra hospitals for the outbreak of any infectious disease.

A patient arrives at Canberra Hospital by ambulance from Calvary as part of an Ebola training exercise.
A patient arrives at Canberra Hospital by ambulance from Calvary as part of an Ebola training exercise. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The mock exercise began with a patient presenting to Calvary Hospital with Ebola symptoms around 8am and then transferred to the Canberra Hospital, which is the designated treatment facility in the ACT.

Specialists wore protective masks and gowns while others spoke to the patient on mobile phones, always careful to limit the potential for contamination.

"In the emergency department at the Canberra Hospital they have done detailed planning about how to get the patient into the hospital without putting anyone at risk or disrupting services," Dr Pengilley said.

"In this case they went to a designated ward which is kept ready as an isolated facility".

Dr Pengilley said health authorities in Australia were able to monitor who had travelled to and from West Africa and check on their health.

"Before Christmas there were a large number of cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone and there was assessed to be about ten people travelling to Australia from that part of the world," he said.

"Since then, we've also had healthcare workers going over there to treat people"

Dr Pengilley said the risk of an Ebola case in Canberra was low but a decision was taken on a national level to prepare as best as possible.

ACT Health Minister Simon Corbell said the government was committed to "maintaining a high degree of preparedness by regularly practicing and validating emergency response arrangements".  

"This exercise will not only strengthen our response to any potential Ebola case but also to other possible infectious disease outbreaks," he said.

Dr Pengilley said patients at the hospitals were not concerned or worried by the training session as it had been publicised earlier in the week. 

"We didn't want people to conclude there was an actual Ebola case," he said.

Close to 10,000 people have been killed by Ebola since the outbreak in late 2013 – with Australian nurses and doctors continuing to work in West Africa.

Community health workers in Sierra Leone will be knocking on doors this week during a three-day lock-down in a desperate attempt to stem the spread of the deadly virus.

"If we are serious about getting to zero cases soon, we must scale up our community engagement efforts," said director of World Vision Sierra Leone Leslie Scott.

"We need to ensure that people own the messages about hazardous traditional practices, such as washing the deceased, and adopt safe burial practices instead."