Ebola Response Update

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:37 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 1:37 pm, 20th November 2018

First, I thank the Minister for giving me advance sight of her statement. I share the Government’s deep concern about the outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I am pleased to hear that £25 million of UK aid has been given to the response. We hope that it goes some way to containing this deadly outbreak.

In addition, supporting neighbouring countries to prepare to tackle the disease is fundamental and welcome. In 2014, we learned the hard way what happens when action is not taken fast enough to halt the cruel and deadly Ebola virus. We all remember with great sadness how too many people tragically lost their lives in west Africa, and none of us will ever forget the fear and chaos that the virus wreaked on the affected communities, and indeed right across the globe. I am sure we all agree that we must act now to avoid a repeat of those horrific scenes, and help the DRC to contain this outbreak.

With the World Health Organisation reporting that 213 people have died since 1 August in the DRC, and the humanitarian agency Médecins sans Frontières confirming 366 cases, let us be sure that DFID steps up and ensures that the UK plays a crucial leadership role alongside the international community in responding to this outbreak, just as we did in Sierra Leone four years ago.

However, while emergency humanitarian response is an integral part of DFID’s work, I am sure the Minister agrees that prevention is better than emergency response. While we send aid to DRC, we cannot and must not turn our backs on providing the long-term support that will ensure countries across the global south have appropriate health systems set up in the first place.

It is deeply disappointing, therefore, that the Minister’s Department dropped health spending from 18% of DFID spend in 2014, to 12% in 2017. Meanwhile, spending on banking and financial services has been on the increase, as the Department appears to lose sight of its core work and instead increases spending on promoting private companies to expand their profits.

Just this year, the aid watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, told DFID it really needs to improve its work on strengthening health systems. May I ask the Minister, therefore, if she feels that her Department has learned the lessons of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and recognises that supporting countries to build strong, well-managed public services is the only way to ensure that we will not see these outbreaks again in the future?