Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the House about the serious outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Our government is taking steps to ensure that Canadians here at home remain safe and protected.
There is no question that the Ebola situation in West Africa is tragic. I think that I speak for all members of the House when I say that our thoughts are with those who are affected, their families, all of the surrounding communities, and the international community.
The government is closely monitoring the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and it is working with its international partners to support the response and help those who are suffering. The current outbreak has been ongoing since December 2013. As of October 17 of this year, the total number of reported cases was 9,216, including, tragically, 4,555 deaths in those affected regions.
With the exception of cases in the United States and one in Spain, the current outbreak continues to be confined to West Africa. Much recent media attention has been focused on the situation in Texas, and while there have not been any cases of Ebola in Canada, we must be prepared for a case to come here. Provincial and local health authorities and officials are the lead of any Ebola case in Canada, but the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to assist.
Ebola spreads in a community through direct contact with infected body fluids. The scientific evidence shows that Ebola is not airborne and cannot be transmitted through casual contact. The Ebola virus does not spread like the common cold or influenza, or even like SARS.
I should note that I will be splitting my time today here in the House with the member for Pickering—Scarborough East.
As I said, Ebola cannot be spread from a person who is not showing any symptoms.
Secondly, the situational and environmental contexts in West Africa are radically different from those here in 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 patients.
In contrast, the West African countries that are affected tragically have limited resources to respond to prolonged outbreaks, especially in rural areas. The health care infrastructure there, again very unfortunately, varies greatly in the countries and communities affected, and there is a lack of appropriate personal protective equipment. Tragically, despite some progress, outbreak control strategies continue to be met with distrust, due to fear and misinformation.
Despite the fact that the risk to Canadians is low, the Government of Canada remains vigilant and is taking concerted action to ensure that Canadians continue to be protected against the Ebola virus. This includes maintaining our preparedness to detect, investigate and prepare for people with the Ebola virus in the unlikely event that a case were to appear in Canada.
We are well prepared. The Public Health Agency of Canada has recommended that Canadians avoid all non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, due to the outbreak. Additionally, public health notices have been issued for Nigeria and Senegal, recommending that travellers take special precautions.
The government is making sure that Canada and Canadian travellers know how to protect themselves, and what they need to do if they begin to experience symptoms of illness. It is recommended that those travelling to affected countries monitor their health carefully and seek immediate medical attention if they develop symptoms that could be associated with Ebola within three weeks of returning.
Canada is well prepared to identify and manage ill travellers. The Quarantine Act is administered by the Public Health Agency of Canada 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at all points of entry into Canada. Technical guidance and protocols have been shared with provinces and territories and with the transportation sector to detect and manage suspected cases of Ebola infection. Front-line staff have been trained to screen international travellers arriving in Canada for communicable diseases, and to refer any travellers suspected of being ill to quarantine officers.
We also have five Ebola response teams in place. These include specific scientists, lab expertise to quickly confirm diagnoses and emergency supplies from our national strategic stockpiles, such as masks, gloves and gowns. These rapid response teams would support the provincial and territorial authorities in their response should a case of Ebola occur.
Under the Quarantine Act, officers have the authority to implement the appropriate public health measures to ensure public safety. From there, a strong network of laboratories stand at the ready to detect and respond quickly in the event a case of Ebola arrives in Canada.
While there have been no cases in Canada, each suspected case to date has tested our response capability and demonstrated to Canadians that we are ready to respond and that our systems are working. In every case, the individual suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus was identified, isolated, investigated by health authorities and tested for the Ebola virus by the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
We have learned from our experiences with SARS and with the H1N1 influenza pandemic. We are are applying this learning to how we prepare for future outbreaks.
Canada should be proud of our world-class researchers and science capacity. It was our very own scientists at the Public Health Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg who developed an experimental vaccine for the Ebola virus. It is the result of years of hard work and innovation by Canadian scientists to better global public health and security.
The Government of Canada has offered a donation of up to 1,000 vials of the experimental vaccine to the World Health Organization. The vials represent two-thirds of the total vials of the experimental vaccine currently in the possession of the Public Health Agency of Canada. I think we can all concur that this is a rather generous donation.
Canada will keep a small supply of the experiential vaccine to conduct research and clinical trials on safety and efficacy. We will also keep some vials in the unlikely event that they are needed here at home in Canada.
Already these vials offered for donation are on their way to the World Health Organization in Geneva. The first shipment left yesterday. The vaccine vials are being sent in three separate shipments as a precautionary measure due to the challenges in moving a vaccine that must be kept at a very low temperature at all times, and in the event that there is some sort of unfortunate accident during shipment.
The World Health Organization has determined that there are some important safety and ethical considerations that it needs to resolve before the vaccine vials can be given to people. The global community, under the leadership of the World Health Organization, is making progress addressing these issues. There are also logistical challenges.
Canada stands ready to support the World Health Organization and we expect to see our donated experimental vaccine deployed as quickly, ethically and safely as possible. We are committed to supporting the efforts of our international partners to control the Ebola outbreak and we hope that the experimental vaccine will help address this global crisis.
Canadians should be proud of our humanitarian support to address the spread of Ebola in West Africa, including significant funding and the deployment of Canadian experts to assist on the ground.
On October 4, our government announced the deployment of a second mobile lab and team to West Africa to assist in the Ebola outbreak. The lab and three additional scientists from the Public Health Agency of Canada have joined the agency's existing team in the field.
One mobile lab team will continue to provide rapid diagnostic support to help local health care workers quickly diagnose new cases of Ebola. The second mobile lab team has been working with Médecins Sans Frontières to monitor the effectiveness of infection prevention procedures, such as hand-washing stations, face masks, disposal sites, in preventing the further spread of Ebola.
Once their work with Médecins Sans Frontières is completed, the team members will be deployed to other locations to support diagnostic needs as required. On-site laboratory support produces results in only a few hours, which in turn allows for faster isolation of Ebola cases and patient care. It is pivotal to an effective response in this affected region.
I would end my remarks by saying that while the motion before the House is admirable in recognizing the devastation wrought by this Ebola outbreak, it is imperative that we as parliamentarians allow our public health officials and ministers the flexibility necessary to focus their efforts on addressing the outbreak.
I would like to close by extending my heartfelt condolences to those affected by this ravaging disease in West Africa, and to encourage Canadians to support international relief organizations working in this area.