Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the House on Ebola and the tragedy unfolding in West Africa. I will be splitting my time with the member for Kootenay—Columbia.
Colleagues, West Africa is currently experiencing a devastating Ebola outbreak. This outbreak of Ebola has been ongoing in West Africa since December 2013 and was officially declared an outbreak in March 2014 by the World Health Organization. On August 8, 2014, the World Health Organization declared Ebola a public health emergency of international concern.
The Government of Canada is closely monitoring the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and we are also working closely with our international partners to support a coordinated response. Our thoughts are with the citizens of the countries affected by Ebola, as well as with Canadians who have loved ones in those countries or who are working there as part of the international Ebola response effort.
I would like members of Parliament and all Canadians to understand that the risk of Ebola in Canada remains very low. There has never been a case of Ebola in this country. However, people may rest assured that we are well prepared should this occur. The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to work with the provinces and territories to plan and prepare for the rare chance that Ebola is ever imported into Canada by travellers from an affected area.
The Government of Canada has a number of systems in place to identify and prevent the importation of the Ebola virus into Canada. The Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency work together to ensure that travellers from affected countries are healthy when they arrive in Canada and are aware of actions they should take if they begin to experience symptoms of illness.
I would like to take a few moments to provide more background information on what exactly Ebola is and how it is transmitted to humans.
Ebola is a severe viral disease that causes hemorrhagic fever in humans and animals. Hemorrhagic fevers are infectious diseases that can be associated with severe and life-threatening bleeding as well as severe dehydration and organ failure.
It is important to note that the Ebola virus does not spread easily from person to person. Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the body fluids of infected animals. In Africa, fruit bats are considered a possible natural host for the Ebola virus.
Although contact with infected animals results in the introduction of the infection to humans, once contracted by humans, Ebola spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission. Unlike the flu or other respiratory infectious diseases, it is not airborne and cannot be transmitted through casual contact. In the current outbreak in West Africa, the spread occurs primarily among close contacts and family caregivers and as a result of local customs such as burial rituals.
The incubation period for Ebola, meaning the time between exposure and the onset of symptoms, varies between two and 21 days. Infected persons become contagious only when they have symptoms. Although infected, they are not contagious during the incubation period.
Ebola is a challenging disease to diagnose, as it has a wide range of common symptoms associated with a number of illnesses in Africa, such as malaria. It can only be medically confirmed through specialized laboratory testing.
As I mentioned earlier, Ebola does not spread easily from person to person. It is spread through direct contact with infected blood and bodily fluids. In Canada there has never been a confirmed case of Ebola. In the unlikely event Ebola is ever imported into the country, our hospitals have sophisticated infection control systems and procedures in place that are designed to limit the spread of the infection, protect health care workers, and provide the best care possible for the patient.
At this point I would like to give an overview of the current situation in Africa.
The current outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013 and spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia, prompting the WHO to announce the outbreak in March 2014. The virus continues to be actively transmitted in these three countries.
There has been a very limited spread of Ebola into Nigeria and Senegal, associated with single travellers from Liberia and Guinea respectively. We are optimistic for the containment of spread within these two countries due to the infection prevention and control measures that have been put into place.
In Nigeria there have been 21 cases associated with the initial traveller from Liberia, and eight deaths. In Senegal there has been only one travel-related case reported, and that individual has since recovered. No further cases have thus far been reported.
The good news is that countries around the world are rallying together to respond to the outbreak. The international response to Ebola is gaining momentum, and Canada has been an important part of this response since the beginning. Canada has contributed over $5 million in support of humanitarian, security, and public health interventions to address the spread of Ebola.
To prevent the spread of the disease to other countries, affected countries have implemented measures such as questionnaires and temperature monitoring to ensure that individuals who have been exposed to or infected by Ebola are not able to board flights. To date, there has been no spread of Ebola by travellers outside of Africa and there has not been a single case of Ebola contracted on a plane.
Ebola first appeared in 1976, and outbreaks have since been primarily occurring in remote villages in Central and West Africa near tropical rain forests. This current outbreak is the largest one on record.
There are a number of complex factors and significant challenges related to the management of this current outbreak that I would like to share with the House.
First, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, the countries most affected in the current outbreak, are small countries and have limited resources to respond to prolonged outbreaks, especially in rural areas. The fact that Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have multiple areas within their borders where infection is spreading adds another layer of difficulty in containing the infection.
When the outbreak takes place in remote and forested areas, it is easier to maintain a certain natural containment of the disease. However, in this current outbreak, in addition to remote regions, infections are also happening in large cities, where transmission of disease can affect many people in a short timeframe.
Among other things, miscommunication has also contributed to the negative perception by some communities of the success of outbreak control strategies, thus slowing down response efforts. Variations in health care infrastructure from one country to another and certain cultural practices such as burial rituals also add to the complexity of the outbreak and its containment.
As the outbreak has expanded and gained momentum, measures that have been put into place to contain its spread have also had an impact on relief efforts. Movement of people into and out of affected countries has been curtailed by travel restrictions implemented by affected countries as well as by the suspension of flights by regional and international airlines. These measures have created challenges in transporting scientists and laboratory specimens and in the replenishment of equipment and supplies necessary for the response.
Despite these challenges, international efforts continue, and many countries, including Canada, are exploring alternate ways to contribute to the outbreak response. I would like to take a moment to especially recognize the tremendous contributions non-governmental organizations have made in response to the outbreak in West Africa, including Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, and Samaritan's Purse, among others.
It is important for Canadians to know that the risk posed by Ebola to Canadians remains very low, as the virus is not transmissible through casual contact and robust systems are in place to prevent importation. Canadians should also know that the Government of Canada is supporting the international response in West Africa to reduce the risk of international spread of this serious disease.
Let me finish by reassuring the House that the Government of Canada is committed to the health and safety of Canadians and will continue to work closely with its international partners to support the response. The Public Health Agency of Canada, in collaboration with its provincial, territorial, and health system partners, remains committed to review and update the domestic health emergency management and response system to ensure the highest degree of public health possible for Canadians.