Exclusive: First Australian set to touch down in Ebola hot zone

Canberra based private contractor Aspen Medical has confirmed an Australian project manager will arrive tonight in the West African nation to supervise the staffing of a 100-bed, British built facility.

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More than 200 people will be needed to staff the treatment centre.

Aspen says more than 700 people have applied to volunteer in Sierra Leone since the project was announced and, of that number, around 500 people have progressed to the next stage.

Doctors, nurses, health officers and logistics experts are needed.

Most will be hired from around north west Africa, but Aspen insists this is an Australian operation.

Labor welcomed the arrival of the first Australian in Sierra Leone as part of Aspen Medical’s operation, but said the Government should also be helping volunteer health workers operate in the West African nation..

The Opposition’s Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek also wants the government to explain why it has still not engaged Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT).

Authorities say Ebola is spreading at an alarming rate in Sierra Leone, while the number of new infections appears to be stabilising in neighbouring Liberia.

World Health Organisation (WHO) spokeswoman Winnie Romeril says the outbreak has stabilised in some areas of Sierra Leone, but is “still skyrocketing” in the west of the country.

Ms Romeril says the capital Freetown and the nearby town of Hastings are still battling a serious outbreak.

The official nationwide death toll of 1,133 is a gross underestimate and the real caseload is likely to be five times the official figure, she said.

“It’s not a cover-up by authorities, (it’s) just people don’t report their cases,” she said.

“This is a serious problem – they want to keep the bodies and organise traditional burials.”

Liberia has announced a dramatic drop in new Ebola infections, as Mali announced a second case with the death of a nurse.

Liberian assistant health minister Tolbert Nyenswah says new cases has dropped from a daily peak of more than 500 to around 50.

Mali recorded a new case of Ebola with the death of a nurse who treated a patient from Guinea.

“The nurse, who had been in contact with a Guinean national who died of the illness, died in turn,” said an official at the Pasteur Clinic in the capital Bamako, where the male nurse worked.

The largest Ebola outbreak on record has killed about five thousand people.