Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise today to speak about our Liberal motion that first recognizes the terrible devastation that Ebola is wreaking in West Africa and that will require the Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Canada's Chief Public Health Officer to appear monthly to report on Canada's efforts at home and abroad to ensure that the outbreak does not pose a threat to the health and safety of Canadians.
My colleague from Vancouver Centre and I began formally raising Ebola on the national agenda on August 3 by writing an open letter to the Minister of International Development regarding what Canada had specifically contributed to the Ebola response. We asked how many specialists Canada had sent to the World Health Organization to help out, and in what disciplines. We asked that the minister work with colleagues in relevant departments here in Canada in areas of air transport, border services, and protection of health care workers. We asked the government as well to give more funding. While the government responded with a donation of $5 million, the amount was tiny in the face of the overwhelming need and the generosity of other nations.
We wrote the letter because Canada had a moral responsibility to do more to help combat what was then an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola. We also understood that the best way to stop this devastating disease was to stop it at its source, before it spread more widely and became even more difficult to contain. We understood that if we want to protect Canadians from Ebola here at home, we had to end the suffering in West Africa.
During the emergency debate on Ebola on September 15, I asked the following:
...how is Canada working with other countries, particularly through the Global Health Security Action Group and the global health security agenda? How is the government working across departments and what specific departments are involved in each of preparedness, response and recovery, and what is the lead agency for each? What specific actions are each of the departments undertaking?
What is the government doing to ensure the safety of Canadians travelling to West Africa to undertake humanitarian work, commerce and trade, and to safeguard the well-being of those who are there now in areas where Ebola is spreading? What guidance is being provided to Canadians before they leave and while in areas in which Ebola has been reported? If they think they have symptoms compatible with Ebola, what should they do upon their return to Canada?
How specifically was the April 18 funding of $1,285,000 used to address the outbreak? How many specialists and in what disciplines did Canada send to work with the World Health Organization and/or to West Africa to help? How specifically was the August 8 funding of $5 million to address the outbreak spent?...
Although the risk is low, is Canada ready to isolate and care for someone if affected? Does the Public Health Agency of Canada have a public awareness plan to help Canadians understand the prevention, transmission, and signs and symptoms of the disease?
Does the government accept that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a real risk to the stability and security of society in the region? Does the government accept that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone need more doctors, nurses, beds, and equipment?
Does the government accept that the international response has been inadequate and that we need to scale up international response?... In light of the United Nation's international rescue call, will Canada do more to help?
We followed up the August 3 open letter with another open letter on September 17, yet again calling on the Canadian government to do more to help West Africa, specifically to provide more money, more personnel, and more materials.
On September 24 I published an article entitled “Will Canada Do More to Help Combat Ebola?” Specifically, I asked:
Will our Government do more to help, beyond the most recently announced $7.5 million? Will the acting Chief Public Health Officer of Canada speak directly to Canadians to communicate the global impact of Ebola, and coordinate and support health workers who wish to assist efforts in West Africa?...
Will the Government explain to Canadians how it will facilitate the delivery of assistance, including qualified, specialized and trained personnel and supplies to the affected countries?
We asked as well if the government would offer much-needed field hospitals and other equipment, and more health care specialists, and whether the government would call on non-traditional partners to contribute in the areas of communications, health, information, and transport.
Because we lacked answers, my colleague from St. Paul's and I wrote to the Minister of Health to ask for a briefing for all parliamentarians on Ebola, as we needed answers on these important questions. We would like to thank the Minister of Health for granting our request, but Parliament needs to be updated on a regular, ongoing basis.
After the first patient suffering with Ebola arrived in the United States on September 20, the Government of Canada made two separate pledges, each for $30 million. Why did we not see the same pledge and the same sense of urgency to help in West Africa before North America's first case?
The government had two responsibilities when Ebola began spreading unchecked in West Africa: first, to join with the international community in trying to stop it; second, to be prepared should a case to be identified in Canada.
When the World Health Organization asked for $600 million in July, the government gave only $5 million. Why a sluggish response to what was identified then as an unprecedented outbreak?
For the longest time, the government largely made announcements. It announced vaccines, with a delay of three months between the announcement and sending them to the World Health Organization.
The government announced personal protective equipment, or PPE. On October 3, I asked in question period:
With Ebola patients and deaths tripling since August, West Africa needs personal protective equipment urgently, but Canada has failed to fulfill its September pledge.
I will ask again: what is the minister doing to ensure that the promised supplies get to where they are needed now?
Prior to this, Canada's only response was to auction off personal protective equipment until September, months after the alarm was sounded and after the Sierra Leone ambassador to the United States and aid organizations made a plea for personal protective support, and months after the World Health Organization said the same.
Shockingly, we learned just yesterday that only two shipments have been sent to the World Health Organization—with others to follow “in the coming months”, according to the assistant deputy minister of public health—and it is unclear whether the first shipments have in fact even been dispatched to affected areas.
The government has announced funding. Of the $35 million initially pledged, only $4.3 million for showing up as committed funding on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' financial tracking website, suggesting no legal agreements have yet been drafted concerning the remaining funds.
As of October 19, Canada's actual financial contribution for the international response to combat the disease came in 17th place. The United States, with $206 million in committed funding, remains by far the largest donor.
Mere announcements cannot fight Ebola. Only commitments on the ground in West Africa can counter the epidemic. Canada's lack of commitment to short-term results is unacceptable with Ebola cases doubling every 25 days.
Yesterday we learned that Canada would not be sending any more medical personnel without a guarantee that they can be medically evacuated if they get sick. Of course we always want to ensure the health and safety of Canadians, but why does Canada not have this capability? When will a plan be in place? Has the minister met with anyone yet on this? When, and who?
The World Health Organization has been calling for urgent international support in sending doctors and nurses to the worst-affected countries.
Dr. Margaret Chan of the WHO has been clear:
But the thing we need most is people, health care workers. The right people. The right specialists. And specialists who are appropriately trained, and know how to keep themselves safe.
My contacts on the ground in Africa echo her call for more personnel. My contacts were, in fact, hoping that an announcement would be coming from Canada very soon regarding how it would coordinate those who wish to go and work in West Africa. Despite my asking repeatedly during the emergency debate on Ebola, we still do not even know how many Canadians are involved in the response in West Africa.
As the international development critic for our party, let me now focus attention on the needs of West Africa, and let me begin by sending strength, courage, and hope to the people of West Africa—namely, to the people of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, who have suffered so much—and to Canadians with families, friends, and loved ones in Africa. Let me also extend my condolences to everyone who has lost someone during the world's worst outbreak of Ebola in history. I want them to know that we feel their pain, that we stand by them, and that we will fight for them.
This past Sunday, I spoke via telephone with Professor Monty Jones, special advisor to the president of Sierra Leone and ambassador at large, who was responsible for overseeing the Ebola response in the country. Our Parliament should know that he was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2007. His Excellency President Ernest Kororma was briefed that the call was taking place and what transpired, and he gave permission for me to talk about the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and, particularly, the urgent needs of the country and the Canadian Parliament.
Twenty-five hundred people have been infected, 900 have died, and 580 have recovered in Sierra Leone. In the words of the special advisor to the president, the disease remains “very stubborn, despite all the measures taken”. In fact, five of the country's fourteen districts are quarantined, including parts of the capital.
Sierra Leone needs community-based care centres and 1000 more beds. The country needs more health care workers. Special advisor Jones says three to four health care workers are needed for each patient with Ebola. This means the country needs a minimum of 500 more doctors, 2,000 nurses, and 1,000 technicians with various specialties.
Burial remains a challenge in Sierra Leone, as the government wants to give a decent burial to everyone. Custom in Sierra Leone involves crying, mourning, and touching the body, but now there are no ceremonies, no touching, and burials are fast-tracked.
The special advisor to the president explained that a swab is taken from each of the dead, in order to ensure someone has not died of Ebola. The problem is that there are not enough ambulances, not enough laboratories, and not enough technicians to analyze the blood samples. As a result, there is a backlog of samples, which means there is a backlog of bodies to pick up. Sometimes bodies remain in houses for three days. The longer a body remains, the greater the chance that people will want to touch their loved one.
Special advisor Jones says labs currently process 50 to 100 samples per day, but the country needs more labs and more technicians so 500 samples can be analyzed per day.
The special advisor is particularly concerned about possible travel bans and what such bans might mean to the economy and the importation of food and desperately needed health care and medications.
Sierra Leone was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The World Bank ranked it the sixth-fastest reformer. Economic growth was at 11% and predicted to go to 14%, but has now dropped back to 7%. The special advisor explained that a ban would cripple the economy further and prevent much needed food and medical help from coming in.
He explained that people are thoroughly screened in Sierra Leone airports with thermometers and infrared temperature screening and if there is even a slight increase in temperature, they are turned back, to health care.
Special advisor Jones hopes that the international community will continue to respect the known science with regard to travel bans and not make political decisions that would hurt his country further.
As a final point, the special advisor to the president wants the Canadian Parliament to know that the economy and health care will need help after the Ebola outbreak and that we must not forget the people of Sierra Leone and, indeed, of West Africa.
Several humanitarian organizations have relayed the same point to me. Health care systems have effectively collapsed and will require substantial support to be rebuilt and strengthened. The government's investment in maternal, newborn, and child health and the gains in MNCH in the region will be reversed if we do not have a place to assist mothers after the outbreak.
I will now discuss the health care needs from people on the ground in West Africa, with whom I am in touch almost daily. However, before I do, I want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of health care workers, scientists, and humanitarian organizations in incredibly difficult, heartbreaking circumstances.
While there is a real push to create more treatment centres and holding beds, I also hear that there is a tremendous need for training, particularly training for local health workers to use personal protective equipment, PPE, to protect themselves. Even in developed countries, only a small number of health workers have ever used the required level of protection, which sadly was illustrated by the experiences in Spain and in the United States. Training that is taking place overseas involves three days, plus two days in a ward, then regular supervision and mentoring. There are no shortcuts.
The Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa is the most severe and acute public health emergency in modern times. Never in recent history has such a dangerous pathogen infected so many people so quickly over such a wide geographical area for so long.
It is past time that the Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Chief Public Health Officer appeared in front of the health committee to update parliamentarians and Canadians on whether Canada is actually fulfilling its pledges on Ebola; that equipment and money is actually getting to the people who need it most in West Africa; and that parliamentarians have an opportunity to ask ministers and officials about Canada's state of preparedness. Parliamentarians will want to ask about preparedness of Canada's ports of entry, health care facilities, and other institutions to identify, diagnose, isolate, and treat Ebola patients in a safe and appropriate manner.
We have said from the very beginning that this is a non-partisan issue, and so in the spirit of compromise, I move, seconded by the member for Random—Burin—St. George's, to amend the motion as follows.
by replacing the words "the Minister of Health, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, and the Minister of Public Safety to appear before the Standing Committee on Health twice monthly" with the words "the relevant minister or ministers to appear twice monthly and the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to appear monthly before the Standing Committee on Health".
I call on all members of this House to support this motion to protect the people of West Africa so that we can protect the health and safety of Canadians here.