Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.)
|| That the House recognize the devastation that Ebola is wreaking in Western Africa and the serious threat to public health that the virus could pose to Canada; and call on the Minister of Health, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, and the Minister of Public Safety to appear before the Standing Committee on Health twice monthly to report on Canada’s efforts at home and abroad to ensure that the outbreak does not pose a threat to the health and safety of Canadians.
She said: Mr. Speaker, this motion is a timely one. We see that fear, news broadcasts and listening to things going on around the world can create panic and fear in certain parts of the world, including Canada.
We want to ensure that the balance is kept with good information going out to the public and to Parliament, and via Parliament to the public, so that people will not begin to panic. They will be aware of the fact that the risks are indeed not very high of Ebola spreading to Canada in the way that it has in West Africa, and that everyone is on top of their game. That is really why we want to do this.
In the past, the minister and the Chief Public Health Officer have not been forthcoming with actual details of what they have been doing. We want to ensure this is not a partisan issue. Where the health and safety of Canadians are concerned, we put aside partisanship. This House has to decide what is best for Canadians and how to communicate with them in an appropriate manner. This has nothing to do with partisanship.
We are concerned about a few things and that is why we have proposed this motion. The first one is that recent cases of Ebola have emerged in North America and some recent cases have emerged in Europe. We know that Ebola is not completely contained in West Africa and this is important to remember.
We are concerned that cuts to the Public Health Agency of Canada over the last five years may have compromised its ability to respond to public health crises, period. We note that the minister and Chief Public Health Officer on Friday last week and yesterday have begun to communicate to the public and that the Chief Public Health Officer is letting the public know about the complete national plan of action in order to inform the public.
However, we want to be assured that this level of communication becomes continuous, that it does not happen just on Friday and Monday, and then we no longer hear from anyone. It is really important, in the best interests of creating good information and therefore not creating panic and confusion, that we continue to ensure that there are regular updates.
That is the reason why we are asking the minister, the Chief Public Health Officer and any other appropriate ministers to report to the parliamentary all-party committee on health twice a month, and of course, if we see any virulence increasing in Ebola, or we see any other cases that are closer to home, that the reporting be ratcheted up to get information weekly as the situation changes. This is something that is in the best interests not only of Canadians but of keeping up-to-date information regarding this disease, so that Canadians do not panic.
We also want to be assured that Canadians are informed. We want to ensure that up-to-date public health protocols to contain the disease are evidence-based and are not politically-based, and are not done in response to political correctness or in response to public panic. These must be evidence-based and they must be absolutely based on public health protocols.
It is imperative that the federal government takes every step necessary to protect the public from the spread of dangerous diseases, not just like Ebola but all dangerous diseases because as the world becomes a smaller place and as travel becomes more frequent from every corner of the globe, the risks of pandemics and epidemics spreading unwittingly have become higher and higher.
We need to think about how to not only protect Canadians but also to take every step as Canadians to move into the region of the world where the particular illness has begun and begin to do the kinds of things we need to do to contain it. We know that the only way to stop the spread of Ebola is to contain the disease within the region where it is currently rampant.
It is interesting to note that Nigeria, which was one of the most affected countries, is considered to be, and I use the term guardedly, Ebola free, because for 42 days there have been no new cases.
Nigeria is a good example of how an African nation, a developing nation, has actually worked on a plan that it stuck to. Everyone in Nigeria was on the same page of that plan, every health care professional, every region, rural and urban, and even non-health-care professionals who were brought in, and the plan was clear.
This is an important thing to remember. The plan must be clear, everyone must understand it. We must ensure that everyone is working out of the same textbook. Nigeria is a good example because it use evidence-based protocols.
Canadians need information in an open and transparent way, which is what we are asking for, openness and transparency by the Minister of Health and the Chief Public Health Officer, in order to reduce confusion and to reassure against panic.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has to begin to co-ordinate, and we do not know if it has which is another reason why we are asking for transparency, regular meetings of the professional health organizations, like the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, and the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Canada because the nurses have said that they are concerned.
Again, this concern may translate to Canadians that things are not right, and that may not be so; however, everybody needs to be informed, so that they can ensure they do not create a panic by suggesting that something is amiss.
The government must ensure that the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to work with the provinces and territories. We must have dedicated regional hospitals in every province with the highest levels of isolation protocols and treatment units. We must have one plan that every province and territory is actually following. It must be the same plan and everyone must be on the same page. Again, I point to Nigeria which has actually done that exact thing, one plan, and it has worked very well.
However, we also need to be aware that Ebola is a disease where it is not good enough to say that we do not have any direct flights from the affected regions. As we well know, somebody can go from an affected region to some other place then transfer to Canada via a different route to any one of our airports.
We also know that the disease takes 21 days to actually show itself. Somebody could be well, go into the hospital, then go off to some small rural community and during the 21-day incubation period begin to show symptoms of the disease. Therefore, rural and urban areas, even though they are not in large centres, must know some very basic things. They must know what the symptoms look like. Every single small hospital must have some personal protective equipment. The reason why the spread occurred in Spain and Texas was because people did not have the right equipment.
The federal government must ensure that, if necessary, it provides financial assistance to small provinces and small areas that may not have the money to buy some personal protective equipment. Not only should the equipment be there but there must be ways that people learn and be trained on how to put them on and how to take them off. Once the equipment has been contaminated, taking it off correctly is very essential. One of the ways the Minister of Health and the Public Health Officer can do this is to put webinars on the PHAC website, so that people can learn by watching someone doing it and can be assured that they are doing the right things.
Border personnel and emergency room personnel across the country should be aware of early signs and symptoms of Ebola. They should also know how to use their personal protective equipment.
The Canadian government must ensure that travellers who received a health assessment by the PHAC quarantine officer at the airport have no signs of infection. We must also have the means to inform persons, who fear they have been in an affected area or may have been exposed, on how to self-isolate during the 21 days, how to look for signs and symptoms, and what they must do immediately. We are talking about giving people the basic information that they need.
We are also concerned about reports that there used to be public health equipment to be sent to countries at risk for diseases which was sold off, one for $1.5 million recently. In fact, it was auctioned off at a fraction of its real value. Now, we do not have some of that equipment to send and we are depending on other countries to send MASH units because we know that the ability in the affected regions to have any kind of public health system is very compromised. Therefore, they need small clinics in some of the villages and the isolated areas, so they can go to these clinics and receive the kind of care they need.
More than anything we know that the mortality rate for Ebola is now moving to 70%. What we also know is that with good hydration and good care that could drop significantly to about 20% to 30%. When we have a country with absolutely no health infrastructure whatsoever and no electricity to see when it is pitch black at night to put in and take out IVs, these are the kinds of basic practical things that need to happen in the region that is most affected. If we can contain the disease in West Africa, we would be able to stop the spread to the rest of the world.
We need to have some other questions answered. We know that in September PHAC pledged $35 million to the World Health Organization to go to Doctors Without Borders and to some of these affected areas. We also saw last week that a new $30 million was pledged. That brings it to $65 million in all, yet we only know that $4.3 million has been committed. Where is the other $61 million? Why is it not getting there when timeliness is very important in containing any kind of epidemic? Getting things done right away is really important.
We also want to know why the 800 vaccines, that were committed to the World Health Organization, did not get there until Monday? What stopped it? What were the problems? When these vaccines could have been there a long time ago, why were they not? We would like to know. Nobody is blaming the Public Health Agency of Canada. No one is blaming anyone. We just want to know why it took so long.
What are the challenges that we are facing in getting money to the affected region and getting vaccines to the World Health Organization? As we heard, the World Health Organization has fallen down on the job at a particular point in time when it could have responded earlier. That may be the simple answer to it. However, we want to know why all of these things have been happening.
We have heard that vaccine trials are set to begin in Switzerland, Germany, Gabon and Kenya. Are there vaccines for trials in North America? Should we have trials in the United States and Canada? We would like to know the answer to that.
The $30 million that was pledged on October 17 was a new pledge. We want to know what that money would be directed to. Would it be to directly fulfill the requests by the World Health Organization and Médecins Sans Frontières to supply personal protective equipment, rehydration equipment, training and personnel? As we have heard, hydration is one of the serious things that leads to death.
The World Health Organization has said repeatedly that it needs personnel, yet today, we heard from the Minister of Health that Canada will not send more personnel. Canada has only sent 13 health care personnel so far, but will not send more until it is sure of an exit strategy. Who is devising the exit strategy? Is the minister working on an exit strategy right now? We need to know.
These are the questions that keep coming up and we need answers. Again, this is not about blaming; rather, it is about wanting to be informed, to be open and transparent in terms of what is going on.
I just want to speak a little about Nigeria. Nigeria has now been 42 days free of a new case of Ebola, which means that it seems to be Ebola-free. Since Ebola has a 21-day incubation period, Nigeria has had two full incubation periods without any new disease.
One of the things Nigeria had to deal with, the same thing we see in Sierra Leone and the other regions, was struggling against a backdrop of a weak health system, although Nigeria has a stronger health system than most. There are significant deficits in capacity, personnel, trained people, and protective equipment.
There is also fear and there are cultural practices. I am referring to the disease in West Africa right now, because we know that to stop the spread to the rest of the world, we have to end the disease or contain the disease in West Africa.
What Nigeria did was really important. We know that there is a great deal of fear among people who live in the villages. They have a cultural practice of bathing their dead, and this increases the risk of being exposed to blood and bodily fluids. Education was necessary. What Nigeria did, apparently, was bring together religious leaders, local people, and local community leaders and have them knock on everyone's door, go to everyone's place, to tell them that they had to stop doing that. They told them that this was not something someone gave them maliciously but that it was a virus, and these were the things they had to do and the practices they had to change. Having people from local communities and leaders from religious communities speak to them made a difference. That dealt with some of the fear.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been about 9,000 cases of Ebola as of October 12. This is an underestimation, according to the World Health Organization, because we still do not know if there are cases people are hiding or if people had someone with Ebola who died and they buried the person without letting anyone know, because of fear, again. We know that almost 4,500 deaths have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and up until now, Nigeria. There have been additional deaths recorded in Spain and the United States.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has, as far as we know, based on the last discussion with Canadians, done some really important things. It has actually been talking to the provinces and territories. It has been moving on a plan. It has done some training sessions to ensure, as in Nova Scotia, the ability to put on the protective equipment. That is a great start. However, it is really important that the public health officer of Canada ensure that everyone is working with the same plan, that every province and territory is working with the same plan, and that they have what they need to ensure that the plan is operative. That means meeting and talking much more regularly than is happening.
Something I want to repeat is that webinars are good things. People in rural and isolated areas in Canada are able to go online and see how to put on personal protective equipment and how to take it off.
Some of the work has been done, such as having travel notices to advise Canadians of the risk of travelling to countries with Ebola, additional scrutiny of passengers who have been in affected countries, and automatic referral for screening by a PHAC quarantine officer at the point of entry into Canada of someone from an affected country. These are all important. PHAC has been supportive of some of the control systems already in Canadian hospitals. We see that Ontario has actually done an extraordinary job of creating a solid plan, which it is moving on.
What I am trying to say about the Public Health Agency of Canada is that it is not good enough to support. It is very important to ensure that it is done. We need to know that this is happening on an ongoing basis. As parliamentarians, we would like to be informed, twice a week, through the parliamentary health committee, by the minister, the Chief Public Health Officer, or the appropriate officials so that we will be able to reassure our constituents and Canadians across the country that everything is moving according to clear, evidence-based public health protocols.
Ms. Eve Adams (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, CPC):
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.
Mr. Corneliu Chisu (Pickering—Scarborough East, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak on the ongoing outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. I would like to focus my remarks on highlighting the work done by our scientists in developing the Canadian experimental Ebola vaccine.
As my colleagues will know, on August 12, the Minister of Health announced that we would be donating up to 1,000 vials of this experimental Ebola vaccine to the World Health Organization. This vaccine was created in Canada by researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory. This vaccine has never been tested in humans, but has shown strong promise in animal research. It is a result of years of hard work and innovation by Canadian scientists to improve global public health and security.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has been prepared to send the experimental vaccine for some time now. I am very pleased to hear that the World Health Organization finally signalled that it was ready to receive it, and vials began being shipped yesterday to Geneva. The WHO, in consultation with partners, including the health authorities from affected countries, will determine how the vaccine will be distributed and used.
I would like to share some information on the development of the Ebola vaccine at the Public Health Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory.
The agency's National Microbiology Laboratory officially opened in 1999. It is one of the few facilities in the world and the only one in Canada that has the capacity to accommodate and research the most basic to the most deadly infectious organisms at the highest level of biocontainment. It is a world-class laboratory with a mission to advance human health through laboratory leadership, scientific excellence, and public health innovation.
Before the opening of the facility, not a single researcher in Canada had the ability to work on hemorrhagic fever viruses such as Ebola. A potential case of Ebola in a patient could not even be diagnosed in Canada prior to 1999. Canada was entirely reliant on the Centers for Disease Control in the United States. It speaks to Canadian innovation that within three short years of the facility's opening its doors, researchers at the National Microbiology Laboratory had already developed the foundation of what would become the experimental Ebola vaccine.
Through continuous research and experiments that spanned a decade, scientists at the facility perfected a vaccine that has been effective in protecting non-human primates from the deadly Ebola virus. The particular species of Ebola for which the vaccine was developed, Zaire Ebola virus, is considered one of the most aggressive infectious agents, capable of causing death in up to 90% of humans and non-human primates.
For over a decade, at a time when Ebola outbreaks were only sporadic and quickly controlled, Canadian researchers continued their important work to find ways to fight and protect against this virus, knowing the potential for this deadly disease to spread. They recognized that although Ebola is not indigenous to Canada, international travel provided the opportunity for the transport and introduction of this disease into countries outside Africa through an infected individual.
They also realized the potential for the Ebola virus to be used as a biological weapon and worked closely with other government departments to ensure that Canada was prepared.
Their research also had a much broader goal. They believed that the novel technologies and methods used to create treatments and vaccines against aggressive viruses such as Ebola could potentially be applied to less intimidating pathogens. This belief still holds true today. The cascading effects of Ebola research at the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory may soon lead to a universal flu vaccine, may help Canada stop the next pandemic, and could directly contribute to and help shape the future development of better therapeutics to fight a range of new and emerging pathogens.
This is the reality of the important work being done in Canada. It truly exemplifies the world-class research conducted by agency scientists.
The Ebola vaccine was a Canadian discovery, with ongoing support from the Government of Canada over the last 15 years. Through considerable funding for this cutting-edge and innovative special pathogens research program, Canada can now, more than ever, stand proud as an international leader in the field of infectious disease research. Since 2007, well over $5 million has been specifically invested to help agency researchers find vaccines and treatments against Ebola as well as some other very dangerous organisms.
I am proud to say that thanks to this funding, Canada has developed vaccines and treatments for a range of hemorrhagic fever viruses. In addition to this promising vaccine, Canada created and tested the ZMapp Ebola treatment. This post-exposure treatment has a very good survival rate in non-human primates. The treatment uses a unique regimen of multiple doses of antibodies designed and engineered to find, attach to, and effectively cut the Ebola virus, preventing the virus from reproducing and multiplying in the body. It has no side effects.
It is believed that the ZMapp treatment was directly responsible for saving the lives of some front-line workers who became infected with the Ebola virus in West Africa. This is an important example of work being done in Government of Canada laboratories that has led to the saving of lives. It is a proud moment for all Canadians.
In addition to the Ebola vaccine and treatment, the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory has developed vaccines that have been shown to be 100% effective at protecting against the Marburg virus and the Lassa virus. These viruses can be deadly and have no known cure.
The threat of these viruses entering the country is real. It is because of the hard work and dedication of so many, through innovation, vision, and scientific tenacity, that I can proudly say that our country is prepared and ready should a hemorrhagic fever virus enter Canada.
There are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada, but Canada must be prepared for a case to come here. While provincial and local health officials are the lead on any Ebola case in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada stands ready to assist.
The work to develop a vaccine or treatment is not done in isolation. Discoveries of this magnitude require collaboration throughout government departments, investment by private industry, and, importantly, international partnerships. This vaccine is an example of what can go right when scientific knowledge is shared across borders, when important additional funding is made available through a variety of specialized grants, and when private industry is brought up to help further the work of Canadian scientists.
While multiple organizations assisted in some aspects of the development of the vaccines, I would like to highlight that the intellectual property rights for this vaccine belong to the Government of Canada. I can assure the House that the Public Health Agency is in regular contact with the licensee of the vaccine and with multiple international partners, including the WHO, to provide guidance and advice on ways to advance the clinical trials and facilitate the production of Ebola therapeutics.
Phase I clinical trials for these vaccines were launched on October 13 at the Walter Reed Army Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland. Canada has supplied 20 vials of the experimental vaccine for use in these trials. We have confidence in this vaccine, but we must remember that it is an experimental vaccine and that phase I clinical trials are important to assess the overall safety of the vaccine in humans and to determine the appropriate dosage. Outcomes of these phase I trials are expected in December.
Canada is an important contributor to the fight against Ebola in West Africa. This is in no small part due to the researchers at the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory, who have devoted their work to find cures and treatments for those who so desperately need it.
I would end my remarks by echoing the parliamentary secretary's remarks that while the motion before the House is commendable 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 this outbreak.
To that end, I move, seconded by the member for Don Valley West, that the motion be amended by replacing the words “appear before” with the words “report either in writing or in person to”.
Ms. Hélène Laverdière (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the hon. member for Vancouver East.
Right now, we are facing an enormous crisis, one that the United Nations considers a threat to global peace and security. This crisis does not affect only the countries of West Africa; it affects us all. The worst thing is that the crisis we are talking about so much could well become an even bigger catastrophe if we do not do everything in our power to contain it now.
To date, there have been approximately 10,000 cases since the epidemic began a few months ago. The World Health Organization is now telling us that the number of cases could rise to 10,000 per week by December.
How are we going to cope with potentially hundreds of thousands of cases just a few weeks from now if we cannot cope with 10,000 cases now?
Let us not forget that the worse the crisis gets in Africa, the more likely it is to spread here. We absolutely have to contain the disease in West Africa now. To make that happen, we have to do everything in our power, but unfortunately, that is not happening.
Canada's response so far has been too little, too late. Weeks passed before Canada made its first substantial contribution. When the crisis was raging and people on the ground were desperately appealing for equipment, the Public Health Agency of Canada continued selling that equipment at rock-bottom prices to people who turned around a few days or weeks later and sold it to the World Health Organization at a huge profit. This continued even though the office of the Minister of International Development had been notified of the situation.
The Canadian response to the Ebola crisis is a bit like me having a fire in my livingroom. I decide to put three drops of water on it, but it grows. I then decide to pour a teaspoon of water on it, but the fire keeps on growing. I finally decide to put two or three cups of water on it. Some people would even say that I should just close the door.
Even when we are starting to get a bit more serious, much too late, it seems we cannot do it right or properly.
Canada has promised $65 million in total, but only $5 million has made it to the front lines so far. Does the government realize that in a crisis where cases are multiplying so quickly, time is absolutely crucial and a few days can make all the difference?
Canada promised vaccines. However, it took a ridiculous amount of time for the vaccines to be delivered, and still, they cannot be used for another few months. Canada also promised equipment, but only a little of that equipment has arrived on site.
We see in this case the same mismanagement and failure to act swiftly that we have seen, unfortunately, in too many humanitarian crises—for example, Syria, where we are still not receiving the refugees we promised to welcome to Canada; or when urgent calls for equipment for the winter are answered in the spring; or in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, where the Canadian response has been lacklustre to say the least; and to Ebola, where it is too little, too late, as always.
What should Canada do? It should follow the example of other countries, such as the United States, that have decided to take the bull by the horns. The U.S. has sent 3,000 soldiers, medical personnel and 11 field hospitals.
We must do more in response to the calls by the World Health Organization. Again, this is urgent. We cannot afford to say that we will give a little more and then follow through weeks later. Now is the time to act.
We must also support our other partners on the ground in a more significant way. I am thinking about Doctors Without Borders. I just want to acknowledge the work that is done by those doctors and their president, Dr. Joanne Liu. Dr. Liu is from Montreal and studied at McGill University. There is also the Canadian Red Cross and all the partners in the Humanitarian Coalition, which recently launched an appeal to which I hope we will all respond.
We must support the people who work on the ground, and that includes listening to them in order to find out what they need.
One thing those on the ground are looking for is the deployment of our Disaster Assistance Response Team. DART is available to deal with biological risks and to provide medical care. It can count on the armed forces for logistical support. According to the Prime Minister, deploying DART is not appropriate in this situation. Nonetheless, those on the ground fighting Ebola beg to differ. I tend to have faith in what they have to say.
We also need to think long term. We need to think about building the health systems in those countries. We need to think about building resilience to threats in those countries, whether disease, climate change, or other things. This includes good governance and the promotion of democracy. I know it may sound far away, but here is a good example. I lived in Senegal for years. It is a relatively stable country with good governance and strong institutions. It had a case of Ebola, and it was able to control it. When we compare it to other countries, such as Liberia, which have just emerged from years of civil war and do not have the infrastructure, we see the results. I am not blaming the Liberian authorities. We need to help those countries rebuild. We need to be active in peace building. We have a responsibility to reconstruct. Even if it seems as if we are acting a bit like boy scouts, in the long run we will win and help avoid this type of crisis. We can see that clearly now with what is happening in West Africa.
We can beat Ebola. We must beat Ebola. It is a matter of our safety, of our humanity, and of world stability.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate today as the health critic for the NDP. I would like to thank my colleague for bringing forward this motion in the House today.
Obviously we will be supporting the motion. We see it as a very minimal demand to the government to ask the Minister of Health, the Chief Public Health Officer and the Minister of Public Safety to appear before the Standing Committee on Health twice monthly to report and account on what Canada is doing around Ebola, both in Canada and internationally. It is a very minimal demand, and obviously we need to go a lot further and do a lot more. Certainly, as far as the motion goes, we support it and thank our colleague for bringing it forward today.
I want to focus my comments today on what it is that has been completely lacking in Canada's response. Of course we do know that Canada has committed $65 million internationally. Just to put that in context, for example, the U.K. has committed $205 million. Germany, for example, has committed $127 million. There has been just recently very generous contributions made by private individuals.
We are obviously glad that Canada has made the commitment of $65 million, but what is really concerning and we should be focusing on is that at this point less than 10%, only about $5 million of the $65 million has been delivered in goods and services in terms of what needs to be done. That is very concerning.
All of us are very concerned about what is taking place in West Africa. We are watching the evolution and the development of this crisis, and the international response is so critical, not only in terms of the vaccine but also in ensuring that medical supplies, protective gear and so on, as well as health care professionals, are there on the ground. That is the most important point I want to make today.
This is not unlike what we have seen with the AIDS crisis. I note the article that came out in The Lancet magazine yesterday also made the point that the critical issue is containment within the countries that are now infected and to ensure that they have the capacity, the support and the resources, including a vaccine, to deal with their situation on the ground. This is about trying to ensure that we are not seeing an increase in transmissions to other countries, whether it be in other African countries, in Europe or in North America.
It is very concerning to us that we are many weeks into this crisis and Canada has fallen so far behind in its ability or willingness, whatever the impediment is, to deliver on the commitments it has made. I have come to the conclusion that unfortunately what we are seeing unroll in Canada is more of a public relations exercise.
I have been on a number of panels with the parliamentary secretary. We have heard the minister in the House when we have asked questions. We are told every time that Canada is a world leader, we are doing this and we are doing that, the vaccine was donated and it has been made available, yet nothing is actually getting done, or very little. It was only yesterday that some of the vaccine actually moved out of Canada.
We even heard the Prime Minister basically blame the WHO for that, when in actual fact, Canada itself sold the licensing rights to a company for $205,000, a very valuable health product, the vaccine that was developed in Canada, and basically did nothing to expedite the development of the clinical trials and the need to get this vaccine to where it needs to go. In the U.S. they have been working on the clinical trials for a month already.
There are so many questions as to why the Canadian government has made these pronouncements publicly but has not followed through and remained vigilant in terms of delivering on the commitments that Canada has made.
Yesterday or maybe at the end of last week, we learned the shocking situation that back in June the honorary Canadian consul for Sierra Leone was urgently sending messages to Canada saying that they needed protective gear. Canada was auctioning off those same items for cents on the dollar. It seems unbelievable.
It was not until September that those discounted auctions were actually stopped. There was a delay from June until September. There was information on the ground that was coming back to Canada, saying they desperately need assistance and need to get protective gear over to Sierra Leone, and Canada was selling off the needed equipment at incredibly discounted prices. We have now learned that it is being resold elsewhere at inflated prices.
This raises a whole question about the plan and whether or not there is oversight on the plan that Canada has developed and that we have been told exists. We certainly do appreciate the briefings that have been given by officials at the Public Health Agency of Canada. We appreciate the information they have provided.
However, I do have concerns. We know the budget of the Public Health Agency of Canada has been cut by $60 million over the last three years. We have to question whether or not, even within our own environment here politically, within Health Canada, within PHAC, if there is the capacity to deliver on the plan that is being developed.
We have been asking, consistently, in the House and in other venues, and in writing to the minister—I think we have now done two letters—very specific questions about what it is that Canada is doing and why it is that we are falling so far behind. I have to say that we are not getting the answers we need.
It is not like this is an issue where we can say, “Oh well, all in good time”. This is a critical urgency. It is an emergency today. There are people who are dying. The rate of infection is averaging 1,000 new infections per week.
Every day, every week there is a lag or delay it is affecting the lives of many people who we could be helping. This is a very critical issue.
I want to mention the letter we wrote recently to the Minister of Health. We asked some very pointed questions. We asked which minister was responsible for ensuring quarantine and treatment protocols in Canadian hospitals and clinics. That is a very basic question.
We know that PHAC has been developing national guidelines. We know that yesterday the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, a very major organization in this country, representing front-line health care workers, expressed a lot of concern about the fact that front-line health care workers are not prepared in this country. They do not have the protective gear. In fact, provinces are apparently developing different protocols and different levels of safety equipment. What is happening in Ontario may be different than what is happening in Saskatchewan or in British Columbia.
It does raise some very serious questions as to who exactly is responsible for not just developing guidelines but ensuring quarantine and treatment protocols. Who is responsible for ensuring that hospitals and medical practitioners have the appropriate equipment? These are questions that we have not yet had answers to.
Today, I want to say that in supporting this motion, it is important that the officials come before the health committee, that we be able to hold them to account and to provide these questions. We will certainly be doing that in the House. I have been very glad that the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Outremont has been raising these questions in the House on a very regular basis, as have I and my colleague, the member for LaSalle—Émard.
We will continue to do so because we are very concerned that this not just be a public relations exercise by Canada, but that it be a full commitment, not just in the short term but in the long term, to help people in West Africa who are affected and to ensure that there are the proper protocols and treatments in place should there be a case in Canada, which of course we hope will never happen. However, we have to be prepared, particularly given what we have seen in the United States and some of the protocols that were broken there.
We support the motion and we will be doing a lot more on this file to hold the government to account.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise today to speak about our Liberal motion that first recognizes the terrible devastation that Ebola is wreaking in West Africa and that will require the Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Canada's Chief Public Health Officer to appear monthly to report on Canada's efforts at home and abroad to ensure that the outbreak does not pose a threat to the health and safety of Canadians.
My colleague from Vancouver Centre and I began formally raising Ebola on the national agenda on August 3 by writing an open letter to the Minister of International Development regarding what Canada had specifically contributed to the Ebola response. We asked how many specialists Canada had sent to the World Health Organization to help out, and in what disciplines. We asked that the minister work with colleagues in relevant departments here in Canada in areas of air transport, border services, and protection of health care workers. We asked the government as well to give more funding. While the government responded with a donation of $5 million, the amount was tiny in the face of the overwhelming need and the generosity of other nations.
We wrote the letter because Canada had a moral responsibility to do more to help combat what was then an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola. We also understood that the best way to stop this devastating disease was to stop it at its source, before it spread more widely and became even more difficult to contain. We understood that if we want to protect Canadians from Ebola here at home, we had to end the suffering in West Africa.
During the emergency debate on Ebola on September 15, I asked the following:
||...how is Canada working with other countries, particularly through the Global Health Security Action Group and the global health security agenda? How is the government working across departments and what specific departments are involved in each of preparedness, response and recovery, and what is the lead agency for each? What specific actions are each of the departments undertaking?
|| What is the government doing to ensure the safety of Canadians travelling to West Africa to undertake humanitarian work, commerce and trade, and to safeguard the well-being of those who are there now in areas where Ebola is spreading? What guidance is being provided to Canadians before they leave and while in areas in which Ebola has been reported? If they think they have symptoms compatible with Ebola, what should they do upon their return to Canada?
|| How specifically was the April 18 funding of $1,285,000 used to address the outbreak? How many specialists and in what disciplines did Canada send to work with the World Health Organization and/or to West Africa to help? How specifically was the August 8 funding of $5 million to address the outbreak spent?...
|| Although the risk is low, is Canada ready to isolate and care for someone if affected? Does the Public Health Agency of Canada have a public awareness plan to help Canadians understand the prevention, transmission, and signs and symptoms of the disease?
|| Does the government accept that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has become a real risk to the stability and security of society in the region? Does the government accept that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone need more doctors, nurses, beds, and equipment?
|| Does the government accept that the international response has been inadequate and that we need to scale up international response?... In light of the United Nation's international rescue call, will Canada do more to help?
We followed up the August 3 open letter with another open letter on September 17, yet again calling on the Canadian government to do more to help West Africa, specifically to provide more money, more personnel, and more materials.
On September 24 I published an article entitled “Will Canada Do More to Help Combat Ebola?” Specifically, I asked:
|| Will our Government do more to help, beyond the most recently announced $7.5 million? Will the acting Chief Public Health Officer of Canada speak directly to Canadians to communicate the global impact of Ebola, and coordinate and support health workers who wish to assist efforts in West Africa?...
|| Will the Government explain to Canadians how it will facilitate the delivery of assistance, including qualified, specialized and trained personnel and supplies to the affected countries?
We asked as well if the government would offer much-needed field hospitals and other equipment, and more health care specialists, and whether the government would call on non-traditional partners to contribute in the areas of communications, health, information, and transport.
Because we lacked answers, my colleague from St. Paul's and I wrote to the Minister of Health to ask for a briefing for all parliamentarians on Ebola, as we needed answers on these important questions. We would like to thank the Minister of Health for granting our request, but Parliament needs to be updated on a regular, ongoing basis.
After the first patient suffering with Ebola arrived in the United States on September 20, the Government of Canada made two separate pledges, each for $30 million. Why did we not see the same pledge and the same sense of urgency to help in West Africa before North America's first case?
The government had two responsibilities when Ebola began spreading unchecked in West Africa: first, to join with the international community in trying to stop it; second, to be prepared should a case to be identified in Canada.
When the World Health Organization asked for $600 million in July, the government gave only $5 million. Why a sluggish response to what was identified then as an unprecedented outbreak?
For the longest time, the government largely made announcements. It announced vaccines, with a delay of three months between the announcement and sending them to the World Health Organization.
The government announced personal protective equipment, or PPE. On October 3, I asked in question period:
|| With Ebola patients and deaths tripling since August, West Africa needs personal protective equipment urgently, but Canada has failed to fulfill its September pledge.
|| I will ask again: what is the minister doing to ensure that the promised supplies get to where they are needed now?
Prior to this, Canada's only response was to auction off personal protective equipment until September, months after the alarm was sounded and after the Sierra Leone ambassador to the United States and aid organizations made a plea for personal protective support, and months after the World Health Organization said the same.
Shockingly, we learned just yesterday that only two shipments have been sent to the World Health Organization—with others to follow “in the coming months”, according to the assistant deputy minister of public health—and it is unclear whether the first shipments have in fact even been dispatched to affected areas.
The government has announced funding. Of the $35 million initially pledged, only $4.3 million for showing up as committed funding on the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' financial tracking website, suggesting no legal agreements have yet been drafted concerning the remaining funds.
As of October 19, Canada's actual financial contribution for the international response to combat the disease came in 17th place. The United States, with $206 million in committed funding, remains by far the largest donor.
Mere announcements cannot fight Ebola. Only commitments on the ground in West Africa can counter the epidemic. Canada's lack of commitment to short-term results is unacceptable with Ebola cases doubling every 25 days.
Yesterday we learned that Canada would not be sending any more medical personnel without a guarantee that they can be medically evacuated if they get sick. Of course we always want to ensure the health and safety of Canadians, but why does Canada not have this capability? When will a plan be in place? Has the minister met with anyone yet on this? When, and who?
The World Health Organization has been calling for urgent international support in sending doctors and nurses to the worst-affected countries.
Dr. Margaret Chan of the WHO has been clear:
|| But the thing we need most is people, health care workers. The right people. The right specialists. And specialists who are appropriately trained, and know how to keep themselves safe.
My contacts on the ground in Africa echo her call for more personnel. My contacts were, in fact, hoping that an announcement would be coming from Canada very soon regarding how it would coordinate those who wish to go and work in West Africa. Despite my asking repeatedly during the emergency debate on Ebola, we still do not even know how many Canadians are involved in the response in West Africa.
As the international development critic for our party, let me now focus attention on the needs of West Africa, and let me begin by sending strength, courage, and hope to the people of West Africa—namely, to the people of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, who have suffered so much—and to Canadians with families, friends, and loved ones in Africa. Let me also extend my condolences to everyone who has lost someone during the world's worst outbreak of Ebola in history. I want them to know that we feel their pain, that we stand by them, and that we will fight for them.
This past Sunday, I spoke via telephone with Professor Monty Jones, special advisor to the president of Sierra Leone and ambassador at large, who was responsible for overseeing the Ebola response in the country. Our Parliament should know that he was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2007. His Excellency President Ernest Kororma was briefed that the call was taking place and what transpired, and he gave permission for me to talk about the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and, particularly, the urgent needs of the country and the Canadian Parliament.
Twenty-five hundred people have been infected, 900 have died, and 580 have recovered in Sierra Leone. In the words of the special advisor to the president, the disease remains “very stubborn, despite all the measures taken”. In fact, five of the country's fourteen districts are quarantined, including parts of the capital.
Sierra Leone needs community-based care centres and 1000 more beds. The country needs more health care workers. Special advisor Jones says three to four health care workers are needed for each patient with Ebola. This means the country needs a minimum of 500 more doctors, 2,000 nurses, and 1,000 technicians with various specialties.
Burial remains a challenge in Sierra Leone, as the government wants to give a decent burial to everyone. Custom in Sierra Leone involves crying, mourning, and touching the body, but now there are no ceremonies, no touching, and burials are fast-tracked.
The special advisor to the president explained that a swab is taken from each of the dead, in order to ensure someone has not died of Ebola. The problem is that there are not enough ambulances, not enough laboratories, and not enough technicians to analyze the blood samples. As a result, there is a backlog of samples, which means there is a backlog of bodies to pick up. Sometimes bodies remain in houses for three days. The longer a body remains, the greater the chance that people will want to touch their loved one.
Special advisor Jones says labs currently process 50 to 100 samples per day, but the country needs more labs and more technicians so 500 samples can be analyzed per day.
The special advisor is particularly concerned about possible travel bans and what such bans might mean to the economy and the importation of food and desperately needed health care and medications.
Sierra Leone was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The World Bank ranked it the sixth-fastest reformer. Economic growth was at 11% and predicted to go to 14%, but has now dropped back to 7%. The special advisor explained that a ban would cripple the economy further and prevent much needed food and medical help from coming in.
He explained that people are thoroughly screened in Sierra Leone airports with thermometers and infrared temperature screening and if there is even a slight increase in temperature, they are turned back, to health care.
Special advisor Jones hopes that the international community will continue to respect the known science with regard to travel bans and not make political decisions that would hurt his country further.
As a final point, the special advisor to the president wants the Canadian Parliament to know that the economy and health care will need help after the Ebola outbreak and that we must not forget the people of Sierra Leone and, indeed, of West Africa.
Several humanitarian organizations have relayed the same point to me. Health care systems have effectively collapsed and will require substantial support to be rebuilt and strengthened. The government's investment in maternal, newborn, and child health and the gains in MNCH in the region will be reversed if we do not have a place to assist mothers after the outbreak.
I will now discuss the health care needs from people on the ground in West Africa, with whom I am in touch almost daily. However, before I do, I want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of health care workers, scientists, and humanitarian organizations in incredibly difficult, heartbreaking circumstances.
While there is a real push to create more treatment centres and holding beds, I also hear that there is a tremendous need for training, particularly training for local health workers to use personal protective equipment, PPE, to protect themselves. Even in developed countries, only a small number of health workers have ever used the required level of protection, which sadly was illustrated by the experiences in Spain and in the United States. Training that is taking place overseas involves three days, plus two days in a ward, then regular supervision and mentoring. There are no shortcuts.
The Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa is the most severe and acute public health emergency in modern times. Never in recent history has such a dangerous pathogen infected so many people so quickly over such a wide geographical area for so long.
It is past time that the Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Chief Public Health Officer appeared in front of the health committee to update parliamentarians and Canadians on whether Canada is actually fulfilling its pledges on Ebola; that equipment and money is actually getting to the people who need it most in West Africa; and that parliamentarians have an opportunity to ask ministers and officials about Canada's state of preparedness. Parliamentarians will want to ask about preparedness of Canada's ports of entry, health care facilities, and other institutions to identify, diagnose, isolate, and treat Ebola patients in a safe and appropriate manner.
We have said from the very beginning that this is a non-partisan issue, and so in the spirit of compromise, I move, seconded by the member for Random—Burin—St. George's, to amend the motion as follows.
|| by replacing the words "the Minister of Health, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, and the Minister of Public Safety to appear before the Standing Committee on Health twice monthly" with the words "the relevant minister or ministers to appear twice monthly and the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to appear monthly before the Standing Committee on Health".
I call on all members of this House to support this motion to protect the people of West Africa so that we can protect the health and safety of Canadians here.
Mr. John Carmichael (Don Valley West, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to address the Ebola crisis in West Africa and to update the House of Commons on our government's actions to date.
I will be sharing my time today with the member for Elmwood—Transcona.
The outbreak continues to be a very serious situation and our thoughts are with those affected by it. Recent statements from West African researchers, scientists, clinicians and health officials underscore the fact that families and entire villages have been shattered.
Canada remains at the forefront of the Ebola response, contributing funds, expertise and equipment to the international efforts to fight the Ebola outbreak. Our government continues to work with domestic and international partners to ensure the most effective response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We also continue to take steps here in Canada to further protect Canadians right here at home.
I will start off by reiterating that there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada. However, Canada must be prepared for a case to come here. Provincial and local health officials are the lead on any Ebola case in Canada, but the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to assist.
The Government of Canada has a number of systems in place in Canada to identify and prevent the spread of infectious diseases like Ebola. It will continue to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that we are prepared to protect Canadians in the unlikely event that a case were to arrive in Canada.
We also has five Ebola rapid response teams in place, which include epidemiologists, lab expertise to quickly confirm diagnosis 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.
Internationally, we are supportive of the leadership role being played by the World Health Organization. We remain committed to working effectively with it and other key partners, including Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross to respond effectively to this public health emergency.
Canada has been providing financial and in-kind support of humanitarian, security and public health measures since April to address the spread of the Ebola virus disease in the West Africa region. On October 17, the government announced an additional $30 million to support international efforts led by the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, to help strengthen global efforts to stop the outbreak, treat the infected and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus disease in West Africa.
With this most recent announcement, Canada has committed a total of $65.4 million to the global efforts to support health, humanitarian and security interventions to address the spread of the disease. The government continues to assess the needs identified by the WHO and to explore what else Canada can do to support global efforts in response to the outbreak.
As members are aware, the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg is on the cutting edge of global research and testing capabilities for Ebola. The lab recently sent a second mobile laboratory to help provide on-the-ground rapid diagnostics and testing infection control measures.
In response to the World Health Organization's appeal to member states for the donation of personal protective equipment to support the ongoing Ebola virus disease outbreak response in West Africa, the Government of Canada offered the WHO a donation of over $2.5 million in personal protective equipment, including gowns, masks, respirators and gloves. The government has already delivered two shipments to West Africa, in part by Royal Canadian Air Force Hercules aircraft. This personal equipment will make a difference on the ground in helping to reduce the risk of transmission and infection.
The Government of Canada is also donating up to 1,000 vials of an experimental Ebola vaccine, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, to the WHO to support the response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Government of Canada owns the intellectual property of this vaccine. It is the product of more than 10 years of scientific research and innovation by the Public Health Agency of Canada scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory and could be an important tool in curbing the outbreak.
The experimental Ebola vaccine has never been tested in humans but has shown great promise in animal research. This donation represents up to two-thirds of the total vials of this experimental vaccine currently in the possession of the Public Health Agency of Canada. The remainder will be kept in Canada for further research and in the unlikely event that it is needed for compassionate use.
The Government of Canada has begun to ship 800 of these donated vials of its experimental Ebola vaccine to the WHO. The first shipment left yesterday by air from Winnipeg to the University Hospital of Geneva. The vaccine vials are being sent in three separate shipments as a precautionary measure due to the challenges of moving a vaccine that must be kept at a very low temperature at all times. The vaccine must be packed in dry ice and kept at -80°C, which is similar to the conditions required for transplanting human organs.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is supplying the vaccine to the WHO in its role as the international co-ordinating body for the Ebola outbreak in the hopes that the vaccine can be made available as an international resource.
The Government of Canada views this experimental Ebola vaccine as a global resource. In the interest of global public health, we are sharing it with our international partners to help address the outbreak. The WHO, in consultation with partners including health authorities from the affected countries, will guide and facilitate how the vaccine is distributed and used. There are both ethical and logistical challenges with the use of experimental vaccines and treatments in humans. The WHO will need to consider those carefully before using this vaccine in this outbreak.
We are mindful that the vaccine is experimental. There have only been a handful of people in the world who have received it to date. It has not yet been tested in humans for safety or effectiveness. We expect the WHO to deploy these doses as ethically, quickly and safely as possible.
To this end, the WHO organized an expert consultation in late September to assess the status of work to test and eventually licence this Ebola vaccine along with another that was developed in the United States. More than 70 experts, including many from affected and neighbouring countries in West Africa as well as Canada, attended this event. Participants had varied backgrounds and were able to provide expertise ranging from the virology of emerging infections to regulatory requirements, medical ethics, public health and infectious diseases. Some participants came with more than three decades of experience working in Africa on other infectious diseases.
In order to clarify the safety of the vaccines, the WHO, these experts and other partners have helped to facilitate the expedited evaluation of the two vaccine candidates in order to generate phase one safety and dosage data for decision-making. A series of co-ordinated phase one trials is currently under way and others will soon be initiated with international partners at more than 10 sites in Africa, Europe and North America.
These trials, which are being conducted in healthy volunteers, will provide critical information about the safety of the vaccine and the appropriate dosage required to stimulate a person's immune system to produce Ebola antibodies. Results from the clinical trial are expected in December 2014.
Our government is committed to supporting the efforts of our international partners to control the Ebola outbreak and hopes that the experimental vaccine will be able to address this global crisis.
In conclusion, we recognize that the Ebola outbreak currently ravaging parts of West Africa is the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times. Canada, with its partners, is well-prepared and ready to support international efforts in West Africa.
Mr. Lawrence Toet (Elmwood—Transcona, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity today to take part in this important discussion on the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and our response both at home and abroad.
I would first like to highlight that there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada, but Canada must be prepared for a case to come here. Provincial and local health officials are the lead on any Ebola case in Canada, but the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to assist them to ensure that they remain prepared.
We have five Ebola rapid response teams in place, which include lab expertise that can quickly confirm a diagnosis, and emergency supplies from our national strategic stockpile, 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.
Technical guidance and protocols to detect and manage suspected cases of Ebola infection have also been shared with provinces and territories and with the transportation sector. 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.
However, I would like to focus my remarks today on the ability of vaccines to prevent and combat Ebola, and more specifically, on the government's role in the regulation of vaccines.
A safe and effective vaccine would be an extremely important public health tool to help prevent Ebola and contain future outbreaks. Indeed, Canadian scientists at the Public Health Agency National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg invented an experimental Ebola vaccine that has shown great promise. I am very pleased to see that Canada is making up to 1,000 vials of this vaccine available to the World Health Organization, as they are best suited to determining how and where they can be deployed as safely, quickly, and ethically as possible.
On the home front, I would like to talk about Health Canada's role as a regulator of vaccines. I would like to talk about what it does, how co-operation with our international partners is beneficial and vital, and most importantly, how the process would work should some of this experimental Canadian vaccine need to be used on compassionate grounds within Canada.
Canada, like many other countries worldwide, exercises tight regulatory oversight of all vaccines, because they are usually given to very large numbers of healthy individuals to help prevent disease. All vaccines made available to Canadians are subject to a strict approval process, which is conducted by Health Canada. Health Canada is the national authority responsible for evaluating the quality, safety, and efficacy of vaccines for human use in Canada.
Prior to the approval of a new vaccine, the manufacturer must file a submission with scientific and clinical evidence that demonstrates that the vaccine's health benefits outweigh the risks and that the vaccine is effective and of suitable quality for Canadians. Clinical trials that take place in Canada must also be approved by Health Canada prior to their commencement.
However, it is not necessary for trials to be conducted in Canada for a vaccine to eventually be authorized here. Adherence to the internationally accepted standards of good clinical practice helps ensure that clinical trials conducted in other countries meet the high standards of evidence needed to support authorization in Canada. With clinical trials, the issue is the quality of the science, not where the science is done. This is especially important in the context of the current Ebola outbreak, as supplies of investigational products are extremely limited.
Furthermore, as part of the overall approval process, Health Canada conducts an evaluation of the manufacturer's facilities to assess the quality of the vaccine manufacturing process and to determine that the manufacturer is able to carry out the necessary quality controls for the vaccine. The manufacturer must also provide samples of the vaccine for testing in Health Canada laboratories.
After Health Canada's evaluation, if the conclusion is that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any potential risks, the vaccine is granted market authorization and can be sold in Canada.
After approval, Health Canada continues its regulatory oversight by conducting a lot-release program and regular inspections of the manufacturer's facilities to make sure that best practices for drug manufacturing are being followed.
Potential adverse events associated with the vaccine are monitored by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada through active and passive surveillance systems.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a global issue that requires a collaborative international response. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada are working in close collaboration with other national regulatory and public health authorities to respond.
Ebola vaccines under consideration are at an early investigational stage of development. There are no approved interventions available at this time. Vaccines for the prevention of Ebola are only now starting to be evaluated for safety or efficacy in human trials. In addition, supplies are currently extremely limited.
As I mentioned earlier, Canada has donated doses of our experimental Ebola vaccine, originally developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada, to the World Health Organization to help respond to the outbreak.
While many of the potential vaccines and therapies for Ebola have shown promising results in animal studies, evaluation in humans is necessary to confirm that these benefits are also seen in humans and that the benefits outweigh the risks. This is a critical component of product development and approval.
Accelerating the development and approval of Ebola vaccines requires a concerted effort by many different players, including product manufacturers, regulatory authorities, and the World Health Organization. There should also be a balance between the need to provide access to an Ebola vaccine in a timely manner and the need to gather as much information as we can on vaccine quality, safety, and effectiveness.
Health Canada is a member of the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities. In September, the members of this coalition jointly released a statement on international regulatory co-operation regarding Ebola. Participating regulatory authorities pledged to join their expertise and to enhance collaboration to help accelerate access to investigational products.
Some of the challenges that regulatory authorities worldwide are dealing with include how to help accelerate the development and regulatory approval of Ebola vaccines and therapies, how to facilitate access for those most in need in the affected countries, and how to ensure that data on the quality, safety, and effectiveness of the vaccines is available as quickly as possible for decision-making.
All of this should be done without compromising the regulatory system in place to protect the health and safety of vaccine recipients. These efforts are being led by the WHO, to which we have donated a significant portion of our vaccine stockpile.
In addition, Health Canada is collaborating specifically with other national regulatory authorities to harmonize the data requirements on the quality, safety, and efficacy of the vaccines that would be required for approval. This work is of benefit to decision-makers in the affected countries in Africa as well as to Canadians.
Most important, there is a global commitment among regulatory authorities to share clinical and safety data on candidate Ebola vaccines in real time. This will enable countries to maximize the amount of data available to support vaccine assessment and approval and to rapidly share any information on potential adverse events following immunization. This has already started happening and is expected to help inform vaccine policy decisions worldwide.
Health Canada is also a member of the African Vaccine Regulatory Forum, which is a World Health Organization initiative aimed at strengthening the vaccine regulatory capacity of national regulatory authorities in Africa. Representatives from 19 African countries constitute the membership. Health Canada is using this network to provide assistance and regulatory advice to regulatory authorities in the affected African countries.
Canada is also preparing in the event that a Canadian needs access to treatment or a vaccine for Ebola. Health Canada has regulatory options available that will accelerate the approval process, if needed, to ensure the health and safety of Canadians.
Let me conclude by saying that the health and safety of Canadians is paramount. Health Canada, as a regulator, is working collaboratively with its national and international partners and the World Health Organization to support product development and to facilitate the regulatory evaluation of an Ebola vaccine.
Mr. Arnold Chan (Scarborough—Agincourt, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak in favour of the motion on Ebola that was moved by my colleague, the member for Vancouver Centre.
This is a motion that is very simple, and frankly, should be supported by all members on all sides of the House for two basic reasons. First, this is about public accountability and awareness. Second, this pandemic raises the critical importance of investments in public health, including investments in global public health.
Let me start my thesis on the first point with respect to public awareness and accountability. As I indicated, there is a basic reason for supporting the motion because the public needs to know about the acute risks attached to the Ebola virus. The public basically needs to know the following. First, what is this disease? Second, what are the steps necessary to prevent the spread of this disease? Third, what steps are public officials taking to contain it?
We have seen this crisis grow quickly in West Africa and despite the fact that Ebola has existed for some period of time, this is the first time we have faced a significant situation where Ebola has reached a large urban population in an area that has a highly eroded system of public infrastructure and public services, namely Liberia, and where, unfortunately, this disease can spread very quickly to epidemic proportions. As a result, we have a collective responsibility to address this challenge quickly and aggressively because a failure to do so could lead to much wider global implications. Frankly, it could lead to global widespread panic and concern. In fact, as we have heard and seen in the past few weeks, cases have started to emerge in the west, including a case of a nurse in Spain being affected and the three cases in Texas.
Even here in Canada we are not immune to the potential risks of this particular Ebola virus. In Canada, we have had situations arise where patients have been isolated in communities, such as Brampton, Toronto, Ottawa and Belleville, just to name a few, with possible symptoms of Ebola. Thankfully, so far, we have determined through testing that they had not contracted this horrible disease. However, we have seen as a result the importance of our public health system and investing in it to make sure we have the necessary tools so that we can identify quickly the potential that Ebola may exist on our shores.
We have also seen in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control testify before the house committee about the possible impacts of an Ebola outbreak in the United States. This is particularly important because the government in the United States has made public pronouncements. Making sure that the public is aware of the potential consequences is an important part of its overall communication effort.
Here in Canada, certainly as the disease was breaking out, unfortunately the government seemed to be tight-lipped about the possible consequences of the deadly disease. I do want to give credit where credit is due. I certainly observed in the last few days that the Minister of Health and her officials have been much more forthright and open in giving out public briefings, including the public briefing we saw on the weekend and yesterday.
I think the reason my colleague from Vancouver Centre has moved this important motion before the House is that we need to have more constant public communications from our public officials who are in charge of pandemic responses. They need to communicate necessary information to the public in a clear and calm fashion so that it can have confidence in our health care system, and more importantly, confidence in our health care response, should an unfortunate case of Ebola emerge here in Canada.
This is certainly something that we have been seeing around the world and again, the real rationale behind this motion is to encourage much clearer communication coming from those who are in the know about the situation on the ground.
As members heard in the questions and comments of my colleague from Etobicoke North, we are talking about a disease that has a very high mortality rate. Experts have been providing possible projections that by the end of December we could be seeing as many as 10,000 new cases emerging per week if we do not take a much more aggressive, interventionist response globally to what is occurring in West Africa.
Should this unfortunate circumstance arise, where we end up with a situation where the levels of proliferation of disease hit these types of proportions, unfortunately that also consequently means that we are facing a situation that increases the risk of this pandemic of Ebola reaching us here in western countries. Notwithstanding the fact that we probably have far superior health care systems to manage an Ebola outbreak here in the west, it does have profound public health and economic implications.
I am an individual who, like many Torontonians, had the misfortune of dealing with another pandemic crisis that came up in 2003 and of course, I am talking about the SARS crisis. I can remember from that experience the profound effects that a pandemic can have on a city such as Toronto and on its economy.
At the time that this crisis took place, I happened to be working at Queen's Park, so I had basically a front row seat when this crisis arose. It had profound consequences to Toronto at the time. For example, I recall that when the World Health Organization imposed a travel ban on the city of Toronto, after the disease came to our shores from Asia, it had a tremendous impact on tourism as well as things like hotel stays within the city of Toronto.
We have recently seen that particular impact taking place in the airline sector, for example, and the impact on the Dallas economy that has occurred as a result of the more recent outbreak of Ebola that is taking place there.
However, what we learned on the local front from the SARS crisis was the importance of conveying clear information, frankly, to stop public hysteria. During the SARS crisis, health and government officials held daily briefings. They kept the public up to speed with the latest developments that occurred in the SARS crisis.
In fact, if I recall correctly, at that time the current President of the Treasury Board was serving as Ontario's health minister. For Canadians, it was a particularly challenging time that we were facing. As a result, we have the benefit of the experience we faced in Ontario, particularly in the city of Toronto, and the expertise and protocols that were developed by the then minister of health and now President of the Treasury Board, along with his public officials, that help inform us today about how we should manage the Ebola crisis should we ultimately be faced with a situation here in Canada.
Some of the things we have heard, particularly from health care workers, from doctors and so forth, are best practices that we need to share with our provincial and territorial colleagues across the country. In fact, this morning I was watching Linda Silas, the president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, talk about the fact that she felt the Government of Ontario and Ontario had probably the best practices, particularly as they relate to the protocols surrounding protective equipment, and that they needed to be shared around this country and with public officials from the other 12 provincial and territorial systems that exist in Canada. The federal government ultimately bears an important responsibility in coordinating that effort so that we have a unified set of protocols and systems in place, should we face an outbreak somewhere within Canada.
However, in addition to the issue of the protocols, I also want to stress the tremendous difference that we learned from the SARS crisis, which was the importance of public communications, particularly by our public health officials. I think of individuals like the late Dr. Sheela Basrur who was at that time the City of Toronto's chief medical officer of health and later subsequently became the province's chief medical officer of health. I think of the late Dr. Donald Low, a microbiologist from Mount Sinai Hospital, and of Dr. Colin D'Cunha who at that time was serving as our chief medical officer of health for Ontario.
They gave those daily briefings, but what was critical and absolutely important was the fact that they communicated that information in a calm manner that was easily understood by the public. That is what I strongly want to encourage the government to do. That is what is the basis for this particular motion, to educate the public, help them understand what this disease is and what steps we need to take to prevent it.
Instead of focusing on simple photo-ops and announcements for political advantage, these public health officials conveyed a critical sense of calm, presented the facts and gave the information to the public so that people could understand how to respond to the SARS crisis. These are important learnings that we need to take in respect to the situation on Ebola here today.
What we are urging on this side of the House is that the Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Safety and the chief medical officer for Canada, Dr. Gregory Taylor, provide to Canadians information necessary to take appropriate steps and precautions. In so doing, we will avoid widespread hysteria about this pandemic. That is the first issue: good public communications.
The second point in support of this particular motion is the importance of investing in public health and in particular in global public health. Investments now in stopping this pandemic ultimately may save us a lot more lives and lead to a lot fewer significant consequences if we make investments in global public health a priority. Unfortunately, our western democracies probably did not adequately invest in the World Health Organization, and when faced with a challenge in terms of managing its budget, it focused more on the delivery of primary health care than on its response for pandemics.
As a result of gutting those particular services, we are now faced, potentially, with the situation that we have today. Had the World Health Organization not made some of those choices, we might be in a better situation to cope with Ebola in West Africa today.
In Canada, the government likes to laud its investments in public health. Again, I want to challenge it to think clearly about what is actually sometimes happening. For example, the government chose not to renew the 10-year health accord which was part of the Canada health transfer that had been brought in under Prime Minister Martin in 2004. It has also made certain other decisions, such as the elimination or the amalgamation of the Canadian International Development Agency and folding that into the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.
It makes me wonder whether in fact some of these choices have impacted the effectiveness of our country in delivering foreign aid since the elimination or the folding of this particular agency into DFAIT.
We have heard the government make announcements designed to show that it is taking action; for example, its commitment for $2.5 million of protective equipment getting to hard hit West Africa. Sadly, it took unfortunately nearly a month to get that equipment over to that region.
We have also heard in this House, for example, the same thing applied to the new experimental Ebola vaccine that was developed by our national microbiology lab in Winnipeg. While this is a significant Canadian achievement, unfortunately, those vaccines could not be shipped until recently to Africa because we could not find a plane to get the vaccines over there.
I contrast that to something I raised in question period, that the current government however managed to find an Airbus on short notice to fly EU delegates to Brussels as a result of celebrating its Canada-EU free trade agreement. To some degree, I question the government's priorities in terms of dealing with this pandemic crisis that is taking place in West Africa.
Let me summarize by highlighting the two really important considerations that I think are necessary in support of this particular motion.
First, is the importance for clarity and a need for clear public communications; second, we need to rethink our position and our importance in investing in public health, including investing in global public health.
We need to reassure Canadians that we are doing all that needs to be done, and this can only be done through clear and consistent communications.
Finally, we need to understand that there are clear consequences for eroding our public health capacity and leaving our public institutions unable to meet their fiscal challenges, including meeting our obligations under a national public health system.
It is very much like taking an annual physical checkup. It is better to spend a little money on preventive health measures to avoid costly treatment down the line.
We are now facing and witnessing today a crisis of global proportions. We, in Canada, need to do our part because either we invest now or we pay later, when the price will be much more dear.
We have learned much from our SARS crisis in 2003. I strongly urge the government to take that experience forward as we address this particular issue here today.
Mr. Leon Benoit (Vegreville—Wainwright, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity today to address the Ebola crisis in West Africa and to talk a bit about our government's response to it to date.
I will note at the start that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Mississauga East—Cooksville.
I will start today by expressing heartfelt sympathy to all of those affected by the Ebola situation in West Africa. Although the outbreak is taking place beyond our borders, Canada is committed to playing an important and valuable role in the global response and to engaging in extensive preparedness measures at home to protect Canadians.
There are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada. It is important to stress that, but it is also important to stress that we must be prepared in case we have an Ebola situation in Canada. Provincial and local health officials are the lead on any Ebola case in Canada, but the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to assist them to ensure that they remain prepared.
On August 8, 2014, the World Health Organization declared the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa a public health emergency of international concern. The World Health Organization also determined that a coordinated response by the international community is required to prevent further spread of the disease. An effective response and management of this emergency requires rapid diagnosis, good infection control practices, and tight coordination among partners, and Canada is a very important one.
From the outset, our government has been at the forefront of the international response to this Ebola outbreak. Canada is working with other countries and international organizations, including the World Health Organization, to assist in the overall response to this public health emergency. Canada should be proud of its support in addressing the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Canada has contributed more than $65 million in support of humanitarian, security, and public health interventions to address the disease in West Africa. This funding is being used to improve prevention efforts across the affected regions, including social mobilization and health education to prevent the disease from spreading further. This is very important work indeed.
Canada has been on the front line of the response effort since June. It has been providing world-leading laboratory expertise to help in West Africa. The Public Health Agency of Canada recently deployed a second mobile lab team to West Africa to assist in the Ebola outbreak. The lab and the three additional scientists from the agency are joining the agency's existing team in the field in Kailahun. One mobile lab team will continue to provide rapid diagnostic support to help local health care workers quickly diagnose Ebola. The second mobile lab team will work with Doctors Without Borders to take samples in the health care environment to help determine how Ebola continues to spread. There is a lot to learn about this disease still. This information will be invaluable to helping end the outbreak.
Both teams have the capacity to quickly deploy to other areas, in and out of the country, to provide support if 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.
We know that some health care workers have become infected. This is a key reason for the work of the second mobile laboratory sent from Canada. Scientists are looking for explanations relating to the working environments of all those trying desperately to help in difficult conditions. We are very proud of the efforts of the agency's employees, and of course, we want to ensure their safety as much as possible. Employees on the ground have been well trained in preventive and protective measures. Nevertheless, if there is any doubt as to their safety, we will take every measure to evacuate them, on medical grounds, in a timely manner.
Protective equipment is absolutely vital for helping to prevent the spread of Ebola. In response to the World Health Organization's appeal to member states for the donation of personal protective equipment to support the ongoing outbreak response in West Africa, the government recently made available for donation more than $2.5 million in personal protective equipment. This included gowns, respirator masks, face shields, and gloves. They are greatly needed in the affected areas.
These efforts offer much-needed assistance to workers on the front lines and ensure the health and safety of workers. We are proud to support our international partners to help stop the spread of this disease.
On the testing front, the agency's National Microbiology Laboratory has also been very active. Laboratory diagnostic materials to support testing have been provided to African countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Liberia, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Algeria, and Uganda. The NML has also shared its expertise and materials with the Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad. Chile is also part of the worldwide effort.
Here at home, the health and safety of Canadians has always been, and continues to be, a top priority. While there has never been a case of Ebola in Canada, the government remains vigilant and is taking concerted action at home to ensure that Canadians are protected against the Ebola virus in the event that a case appears here in Canada.
The Public Health Agency of Canada was created in response to SARS to enhance Canada's preparedness to respond to situations just like the one before us today. As a result, Canada is more prepared to address infectious disease risks today than ever before, in spite of what many opposition members have been incorrectly saying. The agency works in close collaboration with the provinces and territories, which are the lead in any response, and with all interested parties to address infectious disease risks.
Canada's health care system and front-line medical staff are well prepared to deal with the identification and treatment of diseases. In Canada, hospitals have sophisticated infection control systems in place that are designed to limit the spread of infection, protect health care workers, and provide state-of-the-art care for Canadians right across the country.
The agency's National Microbiology Laboratory has been working with provincial and territorial labs to increase its capacity to test for infectious diseases, particularly, recently, the Ebola virus. This will further improve Canada's ability to identify Ebola quickly so that the right steps can be taken to protect patients and the community.
Canada has the capacity to respond to and manage ill travellers. The Quarantine Act, which was introduced to prevent the introduction of infectious or contagious diseases to Canada, is administered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Canada requires travellers to report to a Canada Border Services Agency agent if they are ill upon arrival in Canada. Front-line staff at the Canada Border Services Agency and Transport Canada are also trained to screen arriving international travellers for signs and symptoms of infectious diseases. Any traveller showing symptoms is referred to quarantine officers from the Public Health Agency of Canada for follow-up. Canada is well prepared.
In conclusion, our Conservative government has taken steps to assist the people of West Africa and will continue to monitor the situation closely. It has also taken action to prepare for and to protect Canadians from infectious disease threats. The government has been on top of this from the start, and Canadians should take pride in the way this has been handled. Again, I remind Canadians that there has not been a single Ebola case in Canada to date.
Mr. Wladyslaw Lizon (Mississauga East—Cooksville, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak about the motion from the Liberal party on the outbreak of the Ebola virus. I will be using my time to talk about what our government is doing to keep Canadians safe, specifically in our ports of entry.
While there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada, Canada must be prepared for a case to come here. Provincial and local health officials are the lead on any Ebola case in Canada, but the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to assist them to ensure that they remain prepared.
We all have taken notice of the advance of Ebola in West Africa and have followed its spread in that part of the world with great concern. We understand the toll this has taken in the affected countries and we offer our support to the victims of the disease, their families, and the health care workers who are on the scene dealing with this horrible situation.
To date, Canada has committed over $65 million to the global effort to address the spread of the disease in West Africa. In addition, we have financed the deployment of humanitarian and medical experts in support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as well as United Nations humanitarian operations. These are just some of the actions we are taking to address this outbreak.
We take the potential spread of the disease very seriously, and we must rely on the advice provided to us by public health officials who have told us that the virus does not spread easily from person to person. It is not spread through casual contact. It is spread through direct contact with an individual with symptoms.
It is worth underscoring that Canada is well prepared should an Ebola case arise here, though I must stress that there have been no cases of Ebola in Canada to date. That being said, our government is taking all appropriate precautions to keep Canadians safe and to prevent Ebola from reaching our shores.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is the lead government agency responsible for monitoring and screening travellers for the Ebola virus. In doing so, PHAC is working closely with the Canada Border Services Agency to identify travellers arriving in Canada with symptoms of the Ebola virus, or any communicable disease for that matter.
It is a part of CBSA's responsibilities to provide a full suite of border services that support public security and safety priorities. CBSA officers who work at our ports of entry are designated as screening officers under the Quarantine Act. As such, they have received training on how to respond to a traveller displaying the symptoms of illness.
With respect to the current outbreak, CBSA officers, at the recommendation of the Public Health Agency of Canada, are directing all travellers arriving in Canada whose travel itinerary included Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone to secondary examinations for more detailed questioning
CBSA officers are also talking to all travellers entering Canada if they have travelled to one of the affected West African countries or been in contact with someone who has. They also ask travellers if they have been exposed to someone suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus. However, once they have answered these questions, all travellers from these regions will be automatically referred to a quarantine officer for further questioning and examination. This is how the CBSA is working collaboratively with the Public Health Agency in enforcing the Quarantine Act to ensure the safety of Canadians.
In cases where a referral for health reasons coincides with a referral on an immigration or customs matter, the referral to the quarantine officer takes precedence. After clearance by the quarantine officer, any other potential reason for secondary questioning will be taken at that time. The health concern is the number one concern for these travellers.
In addition to this specific questioning of travellers, CBSA officers are acting on their usual health screening protocols with even greater care and vigilance. As part of the regular screening, officers are looking for travellers with signs of illness as they approach the primary inspection lane. CBSA officers are referring any travellers displaying disease symptoms to the Public Health Agency quarantine officers, as per usual protocol.
Along with the extra care being taken at our international airports, the CBSA is also monitoring marine vessel traffic from the affected areas. All vessels are required to supply a maritime declaration of health 24 hours prior to arrival in Canada. The CBSA reviews the declaration, and if there is an illness reported on the vessel, the information is conveyed to the Public Health Agency's quarantine officers for their action.
I would like to say again that, while we are monitoring the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, Canada is well prepared. Canadian hospitals 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 possible care for our patients.
The Public Health Agency meets regularly with colleagues in the provinces and territories to share information and data and to update and distribute guidance documents on Ebola, including for health care workers to help detect and respond locally.
Examples of these guideline documents include infection prevention and control measures for borders, health care settings, and self-monitoring at home; interim biosafety guidelines for laboratories handling specimens from patients under investigation for Ebola virus disease; and environmental sanitation practices to control the spread of communicable disease in passenger conveyances and terminals.
To date, there have been several patients with Ebola-like symptoms in Canadian hospitals, but thankfully none have tested positive, and we know that our testing is a global gold standard. We also have five Ebola rapid response teams in place, which include epidemiologists, lab expertise to quickly confirm diagnosis, and emergency supplies from our national strategic stockpile such as masks, gloves, and gowns. These rapid response teams would support the provincial and territorial health authorities in their response should a case of Ebola occur.
I would also point out that the Public Health Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade have noted in travel advisories that Canadians should avoid all non-essential travel to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
The Minister of Health also highlighted that the Department of Foreign Affairs is advising that Canadians in these countries should return home immediately while commercial options remain available to them.
Even so, we are taking additional precautions at our ports of entry to help ensure that this terrible disease does not reach our shores. The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency are taking proactive measures to help keep Canadians safe. The CBSA's border operations centre is providing officers with the latest information through regularly updated bulletins so that they can act accordingly. CBSA officers are working 24-7 to protect the border against this threat. For over 10 years, the CBSA has been on Canada's front line, keeping our country safe from threats.
The men and women of the CBSA are dedicated, well-trained professionals who exercise their responsibilities with utmost care. Yes, the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is a cause for concern, but with the efforts being taken by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, and other government departments and agencies, we have the people in place ready to detect and respond quickly, if necessary.
The situation abroad is serious, but it is in hand here at home. Whatever our political affiliations are, I think we can all applaud the work of the Canada Border Services Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada, who work on the front lines to keep us and all Canadians safe.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to talk about what I believe is a very important issue. It is an issue the Liberal Party has had the opportunity to raise on numerous occasions since this session began. We brought forward the motion believing the government would be open to the need to have better communications with all Canadians by having two meetings every month.
Canadians want to have a better understanding of what is taking place and what the government of the day is doing to deal with this particular virus. It is important that we recognize that the Ebola virus is severe and far too often leads to death. If we put it in the perspective of time, it started back in September 2013, really, when we first started to see some cases coming to light. By the time we rolled into December 2013, the world started to recognize that this was a very serious, growing issue.
Even though there were a lot of signals for the need for Canada to get more engaged, the Government of Canada actually acknowledged its involvement and interest in the issue back in April of 2014. At the time, as the critic for the Liberal Party said, the government invested just over a million dollars, I believe, on this particular file. We need to recognize where it originates and the costs as a direct result, from West Africa.
The motion we have today is exceptionally good timing. I am encouraged that the government seems to be receptive to voting in favour of what the amendment is proposing to do. If in fact government members do end up voting in favour, I would compliment them on recognizing what we have been calling for. That is, ultimately, more of a sense of accountability and, most importantly, a more timely display of information for Canadians to get a better understanding of the impact Ebola is having, not only here in Canada as a potential threat but around the world and particularly in West Africa, in a number of specific countries, where many thousands of people have actually died of this virus.
I will read what the motion actually states. I am going to start with the amendment because it captures the essense of our motion. It was amended by replacing the words “...Minister of Health, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, and the Minister of Public Safety to appear before the Standing Committee on Health twice monthly” with the words “...the relevant minister or ministers to appear twice monthly and the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to appear monthly before the Standing Committee on Health”.
I believe in good faith. The Liberal Party has worked in co-operation with the Conservative government to try to come up with a motion that, in essence, captures the principle of what the Liberal Party wants to see, ultimately coming up with an amendment that we could support and endorse. I will wait and see how things transpire at the vote, but I do expect the motion will pass. It makes a very strong statement about what it is and how it is that members of the House, from my perspective within the Liberal Party caucus, have been approaching this issue. We very much want to put the party politics to the side. We showed that by working with the government to come up with something it could ultimately support.
With this motion, we have been pushing to ensure that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness will appear before a standing committee to make a report twice a month, along with the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. Other stakeholders within the different ministries might also want to participate, but at the very least we recognize those two ministries.
We are calling for the standing committee to provide the opportunity for the ministers and the staff in question to appear before the committee over a number of hours twice a month to provide an update on what is taking place, what Canada is doing currently, and what we hope to contribute to the fighting of this brutal and deadly virus.
That is ultimately what we want to see, and it would appear there is a very good chance it is what we will get. We look forward to a vote in the committee to designate some days for these first meetings.
We talked about West Africa. There has been a lot of discussion. Members have commented on West Africa at great length. It is where the virus came into being. The number of people infected by the virus in this area has been estimated at somewhere in the neighbourhood 10,000. There have been 4,000 fatalities, which clearly shows how deadly the virus can be.
Different nations in West Africa have different approaches. I have heard a lot about health care infrastructure, and we need to recognize that there is a substantial difference between health care infrastructure in Canada and that of countries in West Africa, where we have seen this virus grow and become a deadly force.
A lot of discussion has been on the infrastructure of health care resources. Those issues are as simple as providing health care professionals and volunteers with some of the basics, such as gloves, and I have heard comments about running water. These are things virtually every health care clinic across Canada has. They are an absolute given, but in many third world countries it is a given that is just not there. They do not have the gloves and the running water.
What about isolation rooms, facilities in areas where even the lighting is not adequate to allow people to deal with the disease? There are also issues surrounding needles. The list of needs is lengthy. In many of these third world countries that are so harshly affected by this particular virus, there are huge shortages, and the demand is truly amazing for what needs to take place for many of these countries to deal with this outbreak.
There have been some successes. My colleague from Vancouver, the Liberal Party health critic, made reference to Nigeria. Nigeria had a plan, and it would appear to be working. She mentioned it has been 42 days since a case has been detected. It is important to recognize that there is reason for us to have hope, even in countries where health care infrastructure is in great need. Nigeria has demonstrated fairly clearly that we can, in fact, have hope if we can develop a plan. A plan is of the utmost importance.
I suspect that if we take a look at what went well in Nigeria, we would find that the government, with the assistance of other organizations, was very successful at communication and education. It made sure that the public had an understanding of what was actually taking place, what the Ebola virus was, what sort of symptoms are seen if someone catches the virus or is infected by the virus. People could be infected with the virus today and two weeks later have no idea they were actually infested with it. It could take 21 days before they would start to see some symptoms.
We need to recognize that the world is in fact a small place. I have heard comments that people cannot get a direct flight to Canada from some of these countries in question, but a direct flight is not required. Someone coming from a country where there is a higher risk or where there are already infections could very easily transfer from one plane to another and end up in Canada.
That is not to say that Canadians have to be overly fearful. We are not suggesting that at all. We do not want the Canadian population to get panicked over the issue. However, we want the government to start talking a lot more about what its plan is. This is the real challenge for the government.
Throughout Canada we have provinces, we have territories, we have first nations. A great deal of coordination needs to take place. It is not a question of “if” these types of viruses will at some point arrive in Canada; it is a question of when. Hopefully, we will be able to avoid the Ebola virus. That would be a wonderful thing. I do not think that there is anyone inside the House of Commons today who would disagree.
Canada does have a role to play in terms of world health, but we also have to ensure that Canada itself, as a nation, is ready and is capable of fending off a virus of this nature. We have some of the very best scientists in the world. In fact, in Winnipeg, we have the high-tech lab on Arlington, just south of Winnipeg North, the riding I represent. That is our National Microbiology Laboratory. It is responsible for the identification, control, and prevention of infectious diseases and has played a very important role in terms of the Ebola virus in Africa by helping to save lives.
We have some brilliant minds in Canada. Different departments in different provinces have done some amazing work. We have some great stakeholders' associations that have also done some amazing work, organizations such as Doctors Without Borders.
The role for the federal government is that of leadership. By “leadership”, I mean that at the end of the day it needs to recognize that we have all this expertise throughout our country—and in certain ways, outside our national borders—and it has to take note of that expertise and ultimately act upon it where it can.
That is what leadership is, and it is why, in good part, we believe that having the minister come before a standing committee where we can get more questions and answers related to the Ebola crisis is a positive thing.
For example, I would like to know from the government to what degree it has been in contact with provincial ministries of health. A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to have in camera discussions with the provincial minister of health related to a health care crisis in Manitoba. I know Manitoba itself has a protocol. I heard other members talk about the province of Ontario and how progressively that government is moving forward in doing what it can to protect its population. There is little doubt that some provinces have likely done a bit more, and it could be simply because of treasury boards, meaning the size of purse they have, or the type of scientific work being done within that province currently.
There is no doubt a huge need for the ministry of health to be working nationally with the provincial entities so that there is one protocol for all of us. Yes, there will be some uniquely provincial situations, but establishing a protocol is very important.
I had the opportunity to talk about protocols in the past when I was an MLA, and we need to understand that certain people in society are put at a greater risk than others by viruses of this nature. Here are a few examples.
In any given province, we have a hospital facility. What would happen to nurses and doctors if something were to break out in Canada?
I made reference to aircraft travel. We have border control officers at our borders and our airports. They are wonderful individuals. What sort of protections are being put into place for them?
The point is that there is a litany of questions that opposition members and even government backbenchers might have that affect their own communities, their own capital infrastructures. Those questions can often be put in the forum of a standing committee. More importantly, the Minister of Health, our Chief Public Health Officer, and other ministers could come before the committee and through the committee explain to all Canadians in a very public and open way what is actually happening on the Ebola front and how Canada is contributing to the betterment of world health.
Canada does have a role to play. We all know that, and there is a huge expectation that we will demonstrate strong leadership. That is what the Liberal Party wants to see: strong leadership coming from the government to show that we truly do care about this virus and the thousands of people that it is affecting throughout the world.
We also need to hear from the Minister of Health and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on how Canadians are being protected and on the issue of the vaccine. We need to hear that if something does come to Canada, Canadians do not have to fear, because the Canadian government is doing what it needs to do.
This is why I believe this motion should receive the support of all members of this House, and I look forward to the government's vote.