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 Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 1:37 pm, 20th November 2018

I will come on to the lessons learnt since the outbreak in Sierra Leone in a moment. However, I am sure that I cannot possibly have heard from the Opposition Front Bench a statement to the effect that having a strong private sector is somehow in conflict with having the revenues needed to provide strong health systems around the world. I hope that that is not the considered position of those on the Labour Front Bench. While spending on strengthening health systems around the world, particularly in some of the poorest and most fragile affected countries, it is important that we in the UK recognise the important role of growth and job creation in the ability of those countries to generate their own tax revenues so that they can continue to strengthen their own health systems. We think that that is the most important way to approach worldwide development.

I digress from the topic at hand. The hon. Lady mentions the outbreak in west Africa. I draw the attention of the House to progress and lessons that have been learned since that outbreak. First, the importance of reacting quickly has been taken into account, both in the first outbreak in the DRC earlier this year, which I am glad to say has been brought under control, and in this outbreak. Importantly, the UK has ensured that the WHO has the resources it needs as soon as it needs them, because this is a clear case of where a quick reaction will save lives.

One major milestone that has occurred since the outbreak in west Africa is that the world has developed an experimental vaccine, which was deployed for the first time this year in the DRC. It proved to be effective in the first outbreak. As I said, 31,000 people have been given the experimental vaccine so far in this outbreak. One real challenge, however, is that this outbreak is in a conflict-affected area. That makes it very difficult to trace contacts and, as I mentioned, 4,400 contacts need to be traced daily. It also makes it very difficult to deliver the vaccine. The vaccine requires trained medical professionals to deliver it. It also requires a secure cold chain. The fact that this is a conflict-affected area is therefore significantly hampering the ability of the international community to do what it needs to do.

The third lesson learned from the outbreak in west Africa is that the WHO strengthened its own processes and has worked with a range of different countries to strengthen their health processes. Ensuring resilience in neighbouring countries is very much a part of the response at the moment—this outbreak is not far from the Ugandan border, just some 20 miles inside the DRC. Strengthening the reaction and response at borders is a lesson that has been learned.