Good evening, Mr. Speaker. It is my great pleasure to be here. I am pleased to discuss the international coordination effort to address the Ebola crisis in West Africa and Canada's contribution to this threat to international public health.
The World Health Organization has declared this a public health emergency of international concern. My thoughts are with those affected by this tragic outbreak in Africa, with all of their families and all individuals worried for their safety. I take this opportunity to update not only members of this great Parliament but all Canadians on what we are doing, the current international situation, the impact it may have on Canadians, and measures already in place to ensure a consistent and coordinated response to this threat to international public health.
I want to begin by reassuring members of the House and all Canadians that there has never been a case of Ebola in Canada, and according to the Public Health Agency, the risk to Canadians remains very low. The Government of Canada is working closely with our international partners to monitor the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and to support the response, while at the same time reviewing our domestic public health preparedness systems and working with our provincial and territorial colleagues.
I will start by providing the facts we have on Ebola based on the current scientific evidence so that we can all understand what the Ebola virus is and how it spreads. Ebola, as many Canadians are now well aware, is a severe viral disease that causes hemorrhagic fever in humans and animals.
It first appeared in 1976, and outbreaks since then have been primarily occurring in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. The current outbreak began in December 2013, and came to the world's attention in early March when an outbreak was officially declared. This outbreak is now the largest in history but remains confined to several countries in West Africa.
Ebola is introduced into the population through close contact with infected bodily fluids. Once contracted, Ebola can spread in the community without proper precautions. However, current scientific evidence shows that Ebola is not airborne and cannot be transmitted through casual contact. This is a very important distinction from other infectious diseases with which Canadians may be familiar, and the virus cannot spread as easily as SARS or the H1N1 influenza.
The Ebola virus can also be spread through contact with infected animals and medical equipment. During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are health workers, family members, and others who are in close contact with an ill or deceased person.
Another important fact is that the Ebola virus cannot be spread by a person who is not showing symptoms of the disease. I think this is perhaps one of the most reassuring facts for Canadians. As we know, the incubation period, the time between infection and the onset of symptoms, varies between two and 21 days.
The countries where there is ongoing spread of the disease are Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. There have been only a limited number of cases reported from Nigeria and Senegal. Those are associated with travellers from Liberia and Guinea respectively. Cases of Ebola have also been reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, these are unrelated to the West African outbreak.
These suffering West African countries have limited resources to respond to prolonged outbreaks, especially in rural areas. I think we have all been captivated by the images that we have been seeing on television. Some of the current challenges and complexities of the outbreak include infections not only taking place in remote and forest areas but also in large cities.
Outbreak control strategies have been met with distrust due to fear and misinformation at times. There are varying health care infrastructures, lack of experience and fear among health care workers, and treatment to date has been supportive, not curative. Some who become sick with Ebola are able to recover, though medical experts do not yet fully understand why.
Ebola outbreaks have had a case fatality rate of up to 90%. Thankfully, this particular outbreak has shown a survival rate of 47%, much better than earlier outbreaks.
On August 8, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola virus disease a public health emergency of international concern. While the situation and media reports from West Africa are dire indeed, I want to reiterate to colleagues, and most especially to all Canadians, that the risk to Canadians remains very low. There has never been a case of Ebola in Canada. The Ebola virus does not spread easily from person to person and cannot be transmitted through casual contact. The Government of Canada has already taken action and will continue to take action against Ebola both at home and abroad.
As per the recommendations of the World Health Organization, Canada is already implementing measures, including maintaining our preparedness to detect, investigate and manage persons with the Ebola virus in the unlikely event that a case were to appear in Canada. Canada has the capacity to identify and manage ill travellers and perform the necessary diagnostic testing for Ebola.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is taking precautions to prevent and control the spread of communicable diseases such as Ebola in Canada through the administration of the Quarantine Act. The Quarantine Act is administered 24 hours a day, seven days a week at all points of entry into Canada. Together with the Canada Border Services Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada helps reduce the spread of serious communicable diseases and ensures that travellers are aware of the actions they should take if they begin to experience symptoms of illness.
In light of the current outbreak, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that Canadians avoid all non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There are also public health notices that have been issued for Nigeria and Senegal, recommending that travellers take special precautions. This recommendation is to protect Canadian travellers. The risk of infection is low for most travellers; however, the risk may be increased for those who are working in a health care setting or for travellers who require medical care in affected areas as most human infections result from direct contact with the body fluids of an infected patient.
There may also be difficulties accessing health care services due to the increasingly burdened health care systems in these countries. The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to provide information to Canadians, such as travel and public health notices, through websites such as phac-aspc.gc.ca, as well as through special and social media platforms. Technical guidance and protocols have been developed and disseminated to partners in the provinces and territories and the transportation sector, including airlines and airport authorities. Front-line staff have been trained to identify travellers who may be ill and to take the appropriate measures to ensure public safety. The Government of Canada has strengthened training programs for front-line staff at the main points of entry and has enhanced working relationships internally and with partners, including public health staff and local health units, first responders, border service officers, and law enforcement agencies. It is important to note that to date there has not been a single confirmed case of Ebola contracted on an airplane anywhere in the world.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is also working closely with its provincial and territorial partners in health. The agency's National Microbiology Laboratory is well-connected with its networks of provincial labs to ensure it is ready to respond quickly should symptoms associated with Ebola be suspected in a traveller to Canada. Our hospitals in Canada have sophisticated infection control systems and procedures in place that are designed to limit the spread of infection, protect health care workers, and provide the best care possible for the patient. As part of the increased vigilance and precautions across Canada, hospitals send samples for persons under investigation to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg for testing to rule out Ebola.
Canada is also involved in an international early warning system that detects reports of outbreaks and emergencies around the world. This enables our Public Health Agency of Canada, along with provincial and territorial partners, to respond to emerging issues before they arise in Canada.
In recent weeks, there have also been some media reports of suspected Ebola cases in Canada from people who had travelled to West Africa, notably in my home community, in Brampton. In every single instance, individuals were identified, isolated, investigated, and all tested negative for the Ebola virus by the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. These cases have all demonstrated that our system is working as it should, and Canada has learned and applied important lessons from our experiences with SARS and with H1N1.
Canada is also proactively contributing to international efforts to combat Ebola at its point of origin in West Africa. Canada has also contributed over $5 million to the World Health Organization and other international non-governmental partners towards this effort.
At the present time, there is no specific licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola, but as colleagues here may have already been aware, leading scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg have developed an experimental vaccine for the Ebola virus. Currently the recognized treatment options are limited to strict isolation to prevent the infection from spreading, supportive care in an intensive care unit, maintenance of fluid levels and electrolytes, maintenance of oxygen status and blood pressure, and the replacement of lost blood and clotting factors.
That said, our government has offered 800 to 1,000 doses of this experimental, developed-in-Canada vaccine known as VSV-EBOV to the World Health Organization as a global resource to help fight this outbreak. Approximately 1,500 doses of this experimental vaccine, designed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, were produced under licence by a U.S. company to support ongoing research on the subject. Canada will keep a small supply of the experimental vaccine to conduct applied research and clinical trials, such as toxicity and safety studies, which are necessary before the vaccine can be used on humans.
Canada will also keep a small supply of the experimental vaccine in the unlikely event that it is needed for compassionate use in Canada.
The World Health Organization, in its role as an international coordinating body in responding to this outbreak, will help facilitate the distribution and use of the vaccine. I would also like to add that while the safe transportation of our vaccine is an important consideration, these doses are ready to be transported the moment the World Health Organization recognizes or requests that they be transferred or deployed.
The decision on whether the experimental vaccine should be offered for compassionate use is not something that the Government of Canada or its partners have taken lightly. While the vaccine and treatment in which Canada has been involved have not been tested in humans, they have been effective in animals and are potentially life-saving options for people who have been exposed to the Ebola virus.
There are significant legal and ethical questions around the use of experimental vaccines and therapies in humans. This is why we are working with our partners in the World Health Organization to evaluate the difficult ethical and logistical concerns on the use of experimental vaccines in outbreak areas. While the experimental vaccine is promising, it is very important to remember that it does not replace the need for rapid diagnosis, good infection control practices, and tight coordination amongst partners involved in the response.
Scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada, at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, have also contributed to the development of two of three elements of an experimental treatment called ZMapp. ZMapp, owned by a U.S. company, Mapp Biopharmaceuticals, is perhaps the most promising Ebola treatment to date. The treatments enable the immune system to fight an infection following an exposure to the virus. Mapp Bio has indicated that all ZMapp doses in its supply were exhausted after the company provided ZMapp to West Africa.
Another experimental treatment called TKM-Ebola was developed by Tekmira, a Canadian company, under a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. The Tekmira therapeutic began phase one clinical trials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March 2014, before being halted in July 2014 due to safety concerns. In early August, the FDA changed the status to allow emergency use on infected patients. The Government of Canada does not own any intellectual property in this product, but we are monitoring the company's progress in clinical trials and the potential applicability of this therapy to the ongoing outbreak with great interest.
The Government of Canada has also provided over $5 million in support of humanitarian, security, and public health interventions to address the spread of Ebola in West Africa. We have also deployed experts to West Africa to assist in ground efforts, and the National Microbiology Laboratory's mobile lab and Canadian experts have been deployed to Sierra Leone, since June, to conduct rapid laboratory testing, allowing the early identification, isolation, and treatment of Ebola-affected individuals.
Just last week, a brand new team of Public Health Agency experts were deployed to this mobile laboratory to assist in the ongoing efforts to help fight the outbreak. Their work is a crucial part of the international aid efforts being made by the world community to address this developing situation.
The Government of Canada is taking a whole-of-government approach to aggressively fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, including National Microbiology Labs. It is providing $2.95 million to the World Health Organization to strengthen the field response to the outbreak and mitigate associated threats to health and safety. It is also contributing $1.7 million to support humanitarian interventions, led by Doctors Without Borders, to reduce and control the spread of the virus in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and provide care to those affected.
It has contributed a total of $160,000 to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to support the response to the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone through its emergency disaster assistance fund, which is managed by the Canadian Red Cross society. I sat on the board of the Canadian Red Cross society for well over a decade throughout southern Ontario and in Toronto, so I can tell the House how excellent its work is.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is providing $200,000 to the World Health Organization through the international health grants program to support a request for assistance toward operational costs in West Africa, and the coordination and deployment of international technical expertise. We are also supporting the deployment of four Canadian Red Cross delegates to Guinea and Sierra Leone to support the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' response efforts through this strategic partnership.
It is important to reiterate that there has never been a case of Ebola in Canada and the risk to Canadians remains very low. I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that there is an imminent threat to this country. There is not. The Government of Canada has a number of systems in place to identify and prevent the spread of serious infectious diseases in Canada. Precautions are being taken to prevent and control the spread of communicable diseases, such as Ebola, in Canada, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at all points of entry into Canada.
Our health care system in Canada is state of the art, with infection control systems and procedures in place that are designed to limit the spread of infection, protect health care workers, and provide the best possible care to patients. Promising Canadian research has already made a number of early contributions to developing experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola. We are actively engaged internationally with the World Health Organization and other non-governmental organizations to combat the disease at its point of origin in West Africa and to get the outbreak under control to protect international health and security.
I personally think we are very fortunate to live in a wonderful country that not only effectively guards our health and security, but contributes Canadian expertise to the international response to the situation in West Africa and leads cutting-edge research that is applied internationally.
I would like to end by identifying what individual Canadians can do. We have been asked by many what they can do personally to help take up the fight. Aside from medical professionals, the most meaningful contribution that Canadians can make is a financial contribution to an international relief organization working in this area. Details are available on the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.