That the House recognize the devastation that Ebola is wreaking in Western Africa and the serious threat to public health that the virus could pose to Canada; and call on 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 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.
Mr. Speaker, this motion is a timely one. We see that fear, news broadcasts and listening to things going on around the world can create panic and fear in certain parts of the world, including Canada.
We want to ensure that the balance is kept with good information going out to the public and to Parliament, and via Parliament to the public, so that people will not begin to panic. They will be aware of the fact that the risks are indeed not very high of Ebola spreading to Canada in the way that it has in West Africa, and that everyone is on top of their game. That is really why we want to do this.
In the past, the minister and the Chief Public Health Officer have not been forthcoming with actual details of what they have been doing. We want to ensure this is not a partisan issue. Where the health and safety of Canadians are concerned, we put aside partisanship. This House has to decide what is best for Canadians and how to communicate with them in an appropriate manner. This has nothing to do with partisanship.
We are concerned about a few things and that is why we have proposed this motion. The first one is that recent cases of Ebola have emerged in North America and some recent cases have emerged in Europe. We know that Ebola is not completely contained in West Africa and this is important to remember.
We are concerned that cuts to the Public Health Agency of Canada over the last five years may have compromised its ability to respond to public health crises, period. We note that the minister and Chief Public Health Officer on Friday last week and yesterday have begun to communicate to the public and that the Chief Public Health Officer is letting the public know about the complete national plan of action in order to inform the public.
However, we want to be assured that this level of communication becomes continuous, that it does not happen just on Friday and Monday, and then we no longer hear from anyone. It is really important, in the best interests of creating good information and therefore not creating panic and confusion, that we continue to ensure that there are regular updates.
That is the reason why we are asking the minister, the Chief Public Health Officer and any other appropriate ministers to report to the parliamentary all-party committee on health twice a month, and of course, if we see any virulence increasing in Ebola, or we see any other cases that are closer to home, that the reporting be ratcheted up to get information weekly as the situation changes. This is something that is in the best interests not only of Canadians but of keeping up-to-date information regarding this disease, so that Canadians do not panic.
We also want to be assured that Canadians are informed. We want to ensure that up-to-date public health protocols to contain the disease are evidence-based and are not politically-based, and are not done in response to political correctness or in response to public panic. These must be evidence-based and they must be absolutely based on public health protocols.
It is imperative that the federal government takes every step necessary to protect the public from the spread of dangerous diseases, not just like Ebola but all dangerous diseases because as the world becomes a smaller place and as travel becomes more frequent from every corner of the globe, the risks of pandemics and epidemics spreading unwittingly have become higher and higher.
We need to think about how to not only protect Canadians but also to take every step as Canadians to move into the region of the world where the particular illness has begun and begin to do the kinds of things we need to do to contain it. We know that the only way to stop the spread of Ebola is to contain the disease within the region where it is currently rampant.
It is interesting to note that Nigeria, which was one of the most affected countries, is considered to be, and I use the term guardedly, Ebola free, because for 42 days there have been no new cases.
Nigeria is a good example of how an African nation, a developing nation, has actually worked on a plan that it stuck to. Everyone in Nigeria was on the same page of that plan, every health care professional, every region, rural and urban, and even non-health-care professionals who were brought in, and the plan was clear.
This is an important thing to remember. The plan must be clear, everyone must understand it. We must ensure that everyone is working out of the same textbook. Nigeria is a good example because it use evidence-based protocols.
Canadians need information in an open and transparent way, which is what we are asking for, openness and transparency by the Minister of Health and the Chief Public Health Officer, in order to reduce confusion and to reassure against panic.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has to begin to co-ordinate, and we do not know if it has which is another reason why we are asking for transparency, regular meetings of the professional health organizations, like the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, and the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Canada because the nurses have said that they are concerned.
Again, this concern may translate to Canadians that things are not right, and that may not be so; however, everybody needs to be informed, so that they can ensure they do not create a panic by suggesting that something is amiss.
The government must ensure that the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to work with the provinces and territories. We must have dedicated regional hospitals in every province with the highest levels of isolation protocols and treatment units. We must have one plan that every province and territory is actually following. It must be the same plan and everyone must be on the same page. Again, I point to Nigeria which has actually done that exact thing, one plan, and it has worked very well.
However, we also need to be aware that Ebola is a disease where it is not good enough to say that we do not have any direct flights from the affected regions. As we well know, somebody can go from an affected region to some other place then transfer to Canada via a different route to any one of our airports.
We also know that the disease takes 21 days to actually show itself. Somebody could be well, go into the hospital, then go off to some small rural community and during the 21-day incubation period begin to show symptoms of the disease. Therefore, rural and urban areas, even though they are not in large centres, must know some very basic things. They must know what the symptoms look like. Every single small hospital must have some personal protective equipment. The reason why the spread occurred in Spain and Texas was because people did not have the right equipment.
The federal government must ensure that, if necessary, it provides financial assistance to small provinces and small areas that may not have the money to buy some personal protective equipment. Not only should the equipment be there but there must be ways that people learn and be trained on how to put them on and how to take them off. Once the equipment has been contaminated, taking it off correctly is very essential. One of the ways the Minister of Health and the Public Health Officer can do this is to put webinars on the PHAC website, so that people can learn by watching someone doing it and can be assured that they are doing the right things.
Border personnel and emergency room personnel across the country should be aware of early signs and symptoms of Ebola. They should also know how to use their personal protective equipment.
The Canadian government must ensure that travellers who received a health assessment by the PHAC quarantine officer at the airport have no signs of infection. We must also have the means to inform persons, who fear they have been in an affected area or may have been exposed, on how to self-isolate during the 21 days, how to look for signs and symptoms, and what they must do immediately. We are talking about giving people the basic information that they need.
We are also concerned about reports that there used to be public health equipment to be sent to countries at risk for diseases which was sold off, one for $1.5 million recently. In fact, it was auctioned off at a fraction of its real value. Now, we do not have some of that equipment to send and we are depending on other countries to send MASH units because we know that the ability in the affected regions to have any kind of public health system is very compromised. Therefore, they need small clinics in some of the villages and the isolated areas, so they can go to these clinics and receive the kind of care they need.
More than anything we know that the mortality rate for Ebola is now moving to 70%. What we also know is that with good hydration and good care that could drop significantly to about 20% to 30%. When we have a country with absolutely no health infrastructure whatsoever and no electricity to see when it is pitch black at night to put in and take out IVs, these are the kinds of basic practical things that need to happen in the region that is most affected. If we can contain the disease in West Africa, we would be able to stop the spread to the rest of the world.
We need to have some other questions answered. We know that in September PHAC pledged $35 million to the World Health Organization to go to Doctors Without Borders and to some of these affected areas. We also saw last week that a new $30 million was pledged. That brings it to $65 million in all, yet we only know that $4.3 million has been committed. Where is the other $61 million? Why is it not getting there when timeliness is very important in containing any kind of epidemic? Getting things done right away is really important.
We also want to know why the 800 vaccines, that were committed to the World Health Organization, did not get there until Monday? What stopped it? What were the problems? When these vaccines could have been there a long time ago, why were they not? We would like to know. Nobody is blaming the Public Health Agency of Canada. No one is blaming anyone. We just want to know why it took so long.
What are the challenges that we are facing in getting money to the affected region and getting vaccines to the World Health Organization? As we heard, the World Health Organization has fallen down on the job at a particular point in time when it could have responded earlier. That may be the simple answer to it. However, we want to know why all of these things have been happening.
We have heard that vaccine trials are set to begin in Switzerland, Germany, Gabon and Kenya. Are there vaccines for trials in North America? Should we have trials in the United States and Canada? We would like to know the answer to that.
The $30 million that was pledged on October 17 was a new pledge. We want to know what that money would be directed to. Would it be to directly fulfill the requests by the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières to supply personal protective equipment, rehydration equipment, training and personnel? As we have heard, hydration is one of the serious things that leads to death.
The World Health Organization has said repeatedly that it needs personnel, yet today, we heard from the Minister of Health that Canada will not send more personnel. Canada has only sent 13 health care personnel so far, but will not send more until it is sure of an exit strategy. Who is devising the exit strategy? Is the minister working on an exit strategy right now? We need to know.
These are the questions that keep coming up and we need answers. Again, this is not about blaming; rather, it is about wanting to be informed, to be open and transparent in terms of what is going on.
I just want to speak a little about Nigeria. Nigeria has now been 42 days free of a new case of Ebola, which means that it seems to be Ebola-free. Since Ebola has a 21-day incubation period, Nigeria has had two full incubation periods without any new disease.
One of the things Nigeria had to deal with, the same thing we see in Sierra Leone and the other regions, was struggling against a backdrop of a weak health system, although Nigeria has a stronger health system than most. There are significant deficits in capacity, personnel, trained people, and protective equipment.
There is also fear and there are cultural practices. I am referring to the disease in West Africa right now, because we know that to stop the spread to the rest of the world, we have to end the disease or contain the disease in West Africa.
What Nigeria did was really important. We know that there is a great deal of fear among people who live in the villages. They have a cultural practice of bathing their dead, and this increases the risk of being exposed to blood and bodily fluids. Education was necessary. What Nigeria did, apparently, was bring together religious leaders, local people, and local community leaders and have them knock on everyone's door, go to everyone's place, to tell them that they had to stop doing that. They told them that this was not something someone gave them maliciously but that it was a virus, and these were the things they had to do and the practices they had to change. Having people from local communities and leaders from religious communities speak to them made a difference. That dealt with some of the fear.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been about 9,000 cases of Ebola as of October 12. This is an underestimation, according to the World Health Organization, because we still do not know if there are cases people are hiding or if people had someone with Ebola who died and they buried the person without letting anyone know, because of fear, again. We know that almost 4,500 deaths have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and up until now, Nigeria. There have been additional deaths recorded in Spain and the United States.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has, as far as we know, based on the last discussion with Canadians, done some really important things. It has actually been talking to the provinces and territories. It has been moving on a plan. It has done some training sessions to ensure, as in Nova Scotia, the ability to put on the protective equipment. That is a great start. However, it is really important that the public health officer of Canada ensure that everyone is working with the same plan, that every province and territory is working with the same plan, and that they have what they need to ensure that the plan is operative. That means meeting and talking much more regularly than is happening.
Something I want to repeat is that webinars are good things. People in rural and isolated areas in Canada are able to go online and see how to put on personal protective equipment and how to take it off.
Some of the work has been done, such as having travel notices to advise Canadians of the risk of travelling to countries with Ebola, additional scrutiny of passengers who have been in affected countries, and automatic referral for screening by a PHAC quarantine officer at the point of entry into Canada of someone from an affected country. These are all important. PHAC has been supportive of some of the control systems already in Canadian hospitals. We see that Ontario has actually done an extraordinary job of creating a solid plan, which it is moving on.
What I am trying to say about the Public Health Agency of Canada is that it is not good enough to support. It is very important to ensure that it is done. We need to know that this is happening on an ongoing basis. As parliamentarians, we would like to be informed, twice a week, through the parliamentary health committee, by the minister, the Chief Public Health Officer, or the appropriate officials so that we will be able to reassure our constituents and Canadians across the country that everything is moving according to clear, evidence-based public health protocols.