Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of this important motion from my Liberal colleague the hon. member for Vancouver Centre.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been described by the United Nations as a crisis unparalleled in modern times. Never before have we seen an outbreak of Ebola this large, severe, or complex. According to the World Health Organization, as of October 12, 2014, a total of 8,973 cases and 4,484 deaths have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, with an additional death recorded in both Spain and the United States. Clearly it is an unprecedented global health crisis requiring an unprecedented international response. However, in the words of Doctors Without Borders international president Dr. Joanne Liu, the international response has been “lethally, inadequate”. The disease has taken its toll on health care workers in West Africa, with 427 infected and so far 236 dead.
After seeing the price being paid by brave health care workers in the region, I was deeply concerned to read reports that even after the Ebola outbreak began, the Canadian federal government chose to sell off rather than donate roughly $1.5 million worth of stockpiled medical equipment at bargain basement prices, even though this very equipment is urgently needed.
GlobalMedic's director of emergency programs estimates that 130 of the 150 pallets of personal protective equipment his organization has shipped to Sierra Leone and Liberia came from the Public Health Agency of Canada's stockpile that was sold off at an auction. This is simply unacceptable. How was it allowed to happen? Surely health care workers fighting the Ebola crisis in West Africa need masks more than the Canadian government needed the $50 it reportedly received for 500,000 masks sold at an auction.
However, as we have seen through the tragic infection of health care workers in Dallas and Madrid, even the well-equipped, sophisticated medical systems of the west are not immune.
My Liberal colleagues and I are concerned about the recent cases of Ebola that have emerged in North America and the government's minimal communication to the public and to Parliament on the level of Canada's preparedness. At any outbreak, clear and open communication is key to both the coordination of prevention efforts and reducing fear and confusion. That is why I am calling on members of the House to support the motion from my Liberal colleague the hon. member for Vancouver Centre. Regular and frequent updates are essential measures to keep Canadians safe and informed about the Ebola virus disease.
Having key members of the federal government appear before the health committee on a twice-monthly basis to inform Parliament and Canadians on the specific measures they are taking to ensure the Ebola virus does not pose a threat to the health and safety of Canadians is an important part of the motion. Hearing from experts such as the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and from the ministers responsible for Canada's response would help to ensure Parliament is kept informed and Canadians receive timely updates on the government's actions.
Having the ministers and the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada appear before the health committee would also allow members to question the government on, for example, what precautions are being taken for the Canada Border Services Agency at land and marine crossings, in addition to airports. These are areas the government has not been clear about. Being open and transparent is essential to keeping the public informed and reducing confusion about the dangers these diseases pose to our country.
Recent false alarms throughout Canada, however, have shown the strength of the Canadian medical system and the professionalism of our public health professionals when they have the information and the resources they need.
Earlier this month, for instance, Eastern Health in Newfoundland and Labrador undertook a series of simulated emergency preparedness exercises in three hospitals in St. John's. According to Dr. David Allison, Eastern Health's Medical Officer of Health:
The purpose of this exercise is to further challenge and validate our procedures to ensure that possible cases of Ebola, or other infectious diseases, are correctly contained, diagnosed appropriately and treated quickly
This past weekend, the Public Health Agency of Canada conducted a practice drill, deploying one of its Ebola rapid response teams to Nova Scotia. This is an important exercise, and we believe that the agency must continue to work with provincial and territorial governments to ensure that regional hospitals are set up with the highest level of isolation protocols and treatment units if a case should reach Canada.
I know that I and all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are comforted that we have such capable and dedicated public health professionals guarding against Ebola in our province. We should not, however, be complacent. The current government has shown little regard for public health in the past. It was only this September that the government finally appointed Dr. Gregory Taylor as chief medical officer, 16 months after his predecessor stepped down. To leave that critical job vacant for 16 months, even as the health crisis gripped West Africa and potential Ebola patients were being isolated in Canadian hospitals, is deeply troubling.
The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions has also raised concerns about the lack of training and protective equipment in some areas. Every front-line health care worker throughout the country should be provided with training, and personal protective equipment should be made available. The recent exercise by the Public Health Agency of Canada in Nova Scotia is an excellent start, but these emergency preparedness drills should be held throughout the country to ensure coordinated responses in all provinces and territories.
Furthermore, the Public Health Agency of Canada must coordinate regular meetings of professional groups like the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, and the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada to ensure members and member associations, such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, are kept informed of data protocols, evolving medical best practices, and risk assessments. These organizations have a vital role to play in ensuring medical personnel on the ground are aware of early signs and symptoms of Ebola and how to deal with suspected cases in a way that protects them and everyone around them.
I commend the selfless efforts of the many Canadian public health professionals who have already answered the call for assistance and have been taking on leadership roles in the medical response in West Africa. Currently, Dr. Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick's Chief Medical Officer of Health, is in West Africa working with a World Health Organization team to contain the outbreak. So far, 14 employees of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg have gone overseas to assist with disaster response. Doctors Without Borders and the Canadian Red Cross have mobilized Canadian health care workers to aid in the response. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude, and we wish them a safe return home when their work is finished.
These Canadians have put themselves at risk and have made incredible personal sacrifices to help fight this devastating epidemic at its source. Despite their efforts, the number of Ebola cases in West Africa is growing every day, and humanitarian organizations' capacity to respond is diminishing.
The current government has made many promises, but of the $35 million pledged this September, only $4.3 million has been committed according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Both at home and abroad, we need more transparency in the federal government's response to this public health crisis, and that is patently obvious when we watch the news. Last night I watched a piece on the CBC by Adrienne Arsenault. It was heartbreaking to look at what is happening in countries abroad with respect to Ebola, and to see people who are helpless, who are looking for help, and that help is not there.
We have to do our part as Canadians. We have to do what Canada is known for doing, and that is being there to help in times of crisis. Unfortunately, it does not appear that we have been doing what people expect Canada to do, and that is to be at the forefront of fighting a crisis like the one we are now experiencing with Ebola.
This motion is an important step in the direction of ensuring that we are aware of what is happening on a daily basis, that reports are being made by those in a position to give us and, more importantly, Canadians the information so we are able to deal with this crisis in a manner that will save lives, not see more lives lost.