Ebola Outbreak: DRC

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Secretary of State for International Development 4:19 pm, 20th May 2019

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his moving and well-informed response to the statement; it is clearly very well informed by some of the actors on the ground. I will reply specifically to two of his questions.

On stepping up co-ordination, an assistant secretary-general of the UN is now operating out of Butembo with a broader co-ordination role for the different UN agencies. We have reached out to opposition leaders, who yesterday made the first in a series of statements to communities to encourage them to come forward to report cases. This is really important because those opposition leaders were at least complicit passively in allowing the rumours to spread that Ebola was somehow an invention of the Government, so there has been a very important shift. We want to thank those opposition leaders for coming forward and making those statements, and we would encourage them to make more such statements. Clearly, the Ebola response should not be politicised and should not be caught up in people’s disagreements with this particular Government in Kinshasa.

On the military-security relationship, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should be using military personnel only as a last resort, but it is very difficult situation. Nearly 200 separate insurgencies are taking place in the DRC—in particular, the Allied Democratic Forces and the Mai-Mai groups, which are operating in North Kivu and the surrounding areas—which, as we have said, have killed a doctor, mounted at least two attacks on Médecins sans Frontières facilities and attacked up to 40 other health facilities. With these kinds of problems, and when we are protecting our health workers not just from the risk of getting Ebola itself—health workers are of course among the individuals most at risk of contracting Ebola—but literally protecting them from being shot or attacked, it is understandable that in certain cases we have to work either with UN troops or the army of the DRC to address this outbreak.

We need to be very realistic about what this whole situation means. Part of that is resilience and, absolutely, investment in the public health facilities in the DRC. However, we should remember that the DRC Government have dealt with nine previous outbreaks. In fact, Ebola is named after a river in the DRC, and it was first discovered because of an outbreak in the DRC. The Congolese army and the DRC Government actually have a huge amount of experience in dealing with this. Their failure to grip it here is specifically about the conflict in North Kivu, rather than necessarily about their having the skills and experience to deal with it.

Finally, we need to invest in resilience in the neighbouring countries to make sure that were the disease—God forbid— to move into Uganda, Burundi or Rwanda, we have the proper response in place to contain it in each of them.