Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Surrey Centre.
I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in the House to speak to the motion before us today.
The Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory is known around the world for its scientific excellence and contributions to global health. The Public Health Agency of Canada engages in important research collaborations to advance science in order to improve public health here at home and abroad.
As we have learned over the last 16 months, pathogens that have the ability to transmit broadly can quickly reshape society on a global scale. Working closely as an international community is an essential part of the global public health ecosystem trying to keep us all safe.
A simple example of multinational collaboration can be found at the outset of this current pandemic. Chinese researchers openly published the SARS-CoV-2 sequence on January 11, 2020. This allowed National Microbiology Laboratory scientists to generate a functional, first-generation assay, which is a type of analysis or test for things like potency, in just five days. This was well ahead of the first SARS-CoV-2 case arriving in Canada.
While this did not stop SARS-CoV-2 from having a devastating impact on our society both domestically and globally, it would have been impossible to identify the first Canadian cases without this assay. This means that initial transmission chains would have gone unnoticed, and the devastation of that first wave would have been magnified. This multilateral co-operation helped partners around the world to develop tests to identify the virus much earlier than if each country had to identify the sequence independently.
Collaborating with laboratories outside of Canada is critical to advancing public health research and science aimed at improving public health on a global scale, including research into infectious diseases. As an institution with global partnerships, the National Microbiology Laboratory looks to open science and collaboration as a central tenet of its work while recognizing the need to balance open collaboration with a need for agreements that dictate the terms of each collaboration when appropriate.
Collaborations can include working together on a common research agenda, such as the World Health Organization R&D Blueprint. It could be about sharing pathogens through the Global Health Security Action Group Laboratory Network and others, collaborating on developing medical countermeasures and sharing critical surveillance data.
The National Microbiology Laboratory shares samples with other public health laboratories in a safe, responsible and transparent fashion to advance public health research. Sharing samples and information is carried out routinely within the scientific community as part of fostering a robust, global health agenda and to enable scientific advancements regarding high-consequence pathogens with potentially significant societal consequences.
The maximum containment laboratory has a long-standing, international reputation for security in the sharing of materials for the purpose of advancing scientific knowledge. Given the National Microbiology Laboratory's standing as a World Health Organization collaborating partner for viral hemorrhagic fever viruses, as well as its knowledge on regulations and standards for these types of transfers, the laboratory in Winnipeg is often asked to share its material.
It is the laboratory's objective to foster global co-operation rather than enable a monopoly of research on any given disease. In addition, the National Microbiology Laboratory's policies ensure that samples are only sent to reputable labs that meet the appropriate federal laboratory requirements. All transfers follow strict protocols and have the proper security protocols in place.
Furthermore, for close to 20 years, the National Microbiology Laboratory has been offering mobile diagnostic laboratory support. Working alongside the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières, the laboratory has supported missions to contain high-consequence pathogen outbreaks. Timely diagnostic capabilities located close to the outbreak zone have proven to be the most efficient way to mitigate further outbreak spread.
The National Microbiology Laboratory has demonstrated that international collaborations can lead to fruitful discoveries. Through the knowledge learned in part during deployments in the support of outbreak control, the laboratory was able to advance the development of an Ebola vaccine, which played an instrumental role in stemming the recent Ebola outbreaks in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Through discoveries such as this vaccine, Canada takes a leadership role as a global citizen using our knowledge to support the world well beyond our borders.
The National Microbiology Laboratory is also involved in providing training to international laboratory professionals, and has previously trained scientists from many countries, including the United Kingdom, when it was developing its own level 4 program. The lab routinely engages the international community, through established scientific networks such as the global health security action group laboratory network, the alliance of North American public health laboratory networks, the Caribbean Public Health Laboratory Network and the Biosafety Level 4 Zoonotic Laboratory Network. Engaging with the international community through networks like these, the National Microbiology Laboratory is always seeking to find opportunities to enhance its connections to support its programs, all of which are ultimately in service of improving the health of Canadians.
With the current international focus on SARS-CoV-2, the National Microbiology Laboratory has been leveraging these fora to understand how other countries are meeting the laboratory and research challenges of this virus. As we have seen with the variants that have emerged around the world, the threat of COVID-19 to the health of Canadians continues to evolve. Working with the international community to increase our understanding of these emerging unknown variants has been critical to help Canada stay on top of the science related to SARS-CoV-2.
The National Microbiology Laboratory has also been collaborating with partners to securely share information and best practices on testing and sequencing and on how other countries have used available information to improve forecasting and modelling tools. These international resources and partnerships have been critical in the Public Health Agency of Canada's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I would like to finish by reaffirming that the pandemic has clearly demonstrated that no country can single-handedly fend off highly infectious diseases. Canada must continue to collaborate internationally as a means not just to protect ourselves from the disease, but also to help protect citizens around the world. That can be done while respecting security requirements, including national security, and the protection of classified and sensitive information. The ability to continue this work must be safeguarded, and we have the mechanisms in place to do just that.