Canada is offering 40 military personnel and an additional $20.9 million to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, while calling for health-care workers willing to "join the fight" against the disease in West Africa.

"Today, I'm issuing a call to action to Canadian health-care workers to travel to West Africa to care for Ebola patients in Ebola treatment centres in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea," Health Minister Rona Ambrose said at a news conference in Ottawa Thursday.

Ambrose said the need is for doctors, nurses, psychological and social support workers, water and sanitation engineers and infection prevention and control workers.

Ambrose pledged the government would support Canadians willing to undertake an eight-week commitment in Africa, including maintaining full pay and benefits for federal workers who volunteer.

The eight weeks include one week of training, four weeks in the field and three weeks recovery, Ambrose said.

Ebola prevention demonstration

From left, Judith Bossé, assistant deputy minister of health, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, Health Minister Rona Ambrose and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Gregory Taylor watch a health-care worker demonstrate the use of protective equipment to prevent infection from the Ebola virus, at an Ottawa hospital Thursday. (Catherine Cullen/CBC)

The government has an evacuation plan in place after recently signing an agreement with two commercial companies, she added.

"We have resolved the medevac issue. We didn't feel it was responsible for us to be encouraging people to go to West Africa until we felt very comfortable with the medical evacuation options for Canadians. We feel comfortable with that now," Ambrose said in response to reporters' questions.

Military will treat health workers

The Department of National Defence will send Canadian Forces health-care and support staff to Sierra Leone for up to six months. The Canadian military doctors, nurses and medics will be stationed with personnel from the United Kingdom at the Kerry Town Treatment Unit, treating health-care workers who have been exposed to the deadly virus.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson acknowledged the 40 Canadian Forces personnel will not be treating the general population.

"According to the information we have in our discussions, there was a need for [personnel to treat health workers] and we've been in discussion with the British, and so we indicated that we would supply that service," Nicholson told reporters.

The $20.9 million will be given to 10 humanitarian organizations:

  • For treatment and psychological support.
  • To help local communities cope with the outbreak.
  • To train medical personnel and emergency experts who will be deployed to the region.

The Red Cross says it has 17 people currently on the ground, and the additional money for urgent training needs will help fill the demand for health-care workers in Ebola treatment centres in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

"Since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak in March 2014, recruiting doctors, nurses and support staff has been our greatest challenge," said Conrad Sauvé, secretary general of the Canadian Red Cross.

With the announcement Thursday, Canada has committed $113.5 million to help in the fight against Ebola.

According to the World Health Organization, there were 15,351 reported cases and 5,459 deaths worldwide.

Canada came under fire from the WHO earlier this month for announcing it was suspending new travel visas for residents from "high-risk" countries in the Ebola-affected areas of West Africa. Canada also halted processing permanent residence visas for people from those countries.

Two weeks ago, Canada also announced it was imposing new self-quarantine measures for "high-risk" travellers from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, three of the countries hardest hit by the outbreak.