Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie for requesting that this emergency debate on Canada's response to the Ebola epidemic be held tonight.
Today, three countries in West Africa are facing an exponential Ebola epidemic crisis. These are Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Doctors Without Borders reports 600 new patients every week in those countries. The World Health Organization is projecting that 20,000 people will be infected in three months. Cases have also been identified in Senegal and Nigeria. We must not wait for this epidemic to spread and claim even more victims.
In her speech to the UN on September 2, Dr. Joanne Liu said:
Leaders are failing to come to grips with this transnational threat. The WHO announcement on August 8 that the epidemic constituted a “public health emergency of international concern” has not led to decisive action, and states have essentially joined a global coalition of inaction.
This situation is simply unacceptable. As a doctor by training, I can only be moved by this statement. Canada is a developed country with considerable financial means compared to the countries in the grips of Ebola and yet the government was slow to act. When it did take action, the measures were inadequate.
This epidemic knows no borders. We cannot take action just to protect our borders. We must attack the roots of the epidemic to eradicate it. Releasing funds is not enough for this. This humanitarian emergency needs trained medical personnel to actively detect new cases. It also needs the proper structures, treatment centres and safe isolation facilities.
Doctors Without Borders has pointed out that its personnel had to turn patients away because they had no space. In Sierra Leone, infected people are dying in the streets because they cannot get to a medical centre. In Liberia, the victims are stopped at the hospital doors. Because of a lack of capacity, the hospitals cannot admit them.
We have civilian, logistical, technological and even military capabilities to help the organizations on the ground. That is where the containment action can be taken. That is why the Canadian government should deploy the Disaster Assistance Response Team with the ability to use all the resources it needs. This should be done in close collaboration with the affected countries.
In support of this argument, I would like to remind members that the entire health care system in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has been undermined. More than 150 health care workers have been infected, 79 of whom have died. These deaths decrease these countries' capacity to respond to the crisis. Some health care professionals are afraid to go to work because they might catch the virus.
Health care facilities have therefore been abandoned, leaving the population on its own to deal with the virus and other illnesses such as malaria, diarrhea and other common diseases that unfortunately cannot be treated. Providing support on site and increasing the number of secure isolation facilities will help to ease the burden on health care systems that today can no longer respond to the demand.
It is also important to set up an efficient information system. I would like to tell members what I heard at a meeting with the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association. I did not ask permission to share this information, but in the Ivory Coast, people will no longer touch each other. The minister told us that people greet each other without touching. That is because there is a lack of information. It is important that we go and help these people. By so doing, we would also protect ourselves. That is some background on what is happening in those countries, and it shows that an efficient information system must be implemented.
People also need to have access to information, otherwise mistrust of medical personnel will only grow, resulting in more violence. We agree that Canada cannot do this alone. A cross-government response is required.
The UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting this Thursday. Decisions will be made regarding what action to take and what measures could be implemented. I would like to know how the government intends to get involved in the solutions that will eventually be implemented even if it cannot participate in the meeting.
We have been slow to act, but we can remedy that by taking immediate action. When we hear Liberia's national defence minister tell the UN Security Council that Liberia's existence is seriously threatened, the situation is more than urgent. The longer we delay, the greater the threat to the future of an entire generation.