Crises like Ebola show the critical need for effective public health systems in our region


22 Oct 2014 | AU

WaterAid Australia endorses calls for increased support to address the Ebola crisis in West Africa and also appeals for increased attention to be paid to effective public health systems amongst our nearest neighbours. 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent stop in Papua New Guinea to discuss arrangements for the potential spread of Ebola highlights how vulnerable Australia would be to outbreaks like the one we are witnessing in West Africa if the disease came to our region.  

“The Ebola epidemic in parts of West Africa continues to devastate the lives of thousands of people. As the scale of the epidemic grows there is the real threat of the disease spreading further across the globe and into the Asia Pacific region,” said WaterAid Australia Chief Executive Mr Paul Nichols.

Concerns about the quality of health services in our region are shared by WaterAid’s international partners. “Weak health systems in Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste raise questions about the preparedness of countries in our region to address an Ebola outbreak in the Asia Pacific. Recent outbreaks of drug-resistant tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea are evidence of this threat,” warned Professor Mike Toole, infectious disease specialist at the Burnet Institute.

The Australian Government already makes a considerable contribution to health in the region. “Ongoing investment focused on strengthening health systems in the Asia Pacific is critical to preventing the spread of communicable diseases across the region. Ensuring access to safe water and adequate sanitation, as well as the practice of good hygiene behaviours are an essential part of this process,” said Mr Nichols.

Nearly half of all health facilities in low-income countries lack a reliable and safe water supply. As a result, maintaining the level of hygiene needed to prevent the further spread of the Ebola virus - which is transmitted through contact with body fluids - is extremely difficult for health workers. “Access to safe water and adequate hygiene education is critical to containing the virus, along with the appropriate isolation, treatment and contact tracing of patients,” said Alison Macintyre, WaterAid’s health adviser. 

This lack of basic services is putting the lives of all those caring for Ebola patients at risk, while also hampering efforts to control the spread of the virus. WaterAid has had to scale back its programs in Liberia and Sierra Leone as a result of the disease.

With hundreds of millions of people worldwide living without clean water and sanitation, the crisis highlights the imperative for the global community to secure universal access to these basic services, in the face of a very real public health risk.

Without urgent and sustained action across the developing world to bring these services to hospitals, homes and schools, further public health catastrophes are inevitable. So while the world deals with the horrific consequences of the current Ebola epidemic, WaterAid will re-double our efforts to secure more - and sustained - investment in water, sanitation and hygiene, the very basics of human development, dignity and health.

Further information

Australian Council for International Development media release - Australian humanitarian agencies issue joint call to action on Ebola

Dev Policy Blog from the Development Policy Centre - Five lessons for Australian aid from the Ebola crisis 


Kirrily Johns, Communications Manager: 03 9001 8246 or [email protected]

About WaterAid

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation. The international organisation works in 26 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 21 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 18 million people with sanitation. For more information, visit: