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 Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement & Nuclear Disarmament) 4:19 pm, 20th May 2019

May I thank the Secretary of State for pre-sight of his oral statement? Thanks are due in no small measure to those who are already working on the ground. That point was made by the Opposition Front Bencher, Dan Carden, and indeed by the Secretary of State.

With 1,600 cases and almost 1,200 deaths, the outbreak in the DRC is the second largest in history. It has a 67% fatality rate 10 months after it began, and the case numbers are still rising and escalating as we speak. As we know, the disease disproportionately affects women, in 55% of cases, and children, in 28% of cases. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has warned that it may have to scale back operations dramatically in the DRC because of underfunding and some of the security issues that the Secretary of State mentioned in his statement.

I have two questions for the Secretary of State. First, on vaccines, he might remember that my hon. Friend Dr Whitford noted in a recent article for The BMJ that

“modern air travel means it is not possible to ignore infectious diseases that occur ‘far away’
as of no concern here”.

Does he agree that vaccines are a key weapon in the fight against this disease, at home and abroad, and if so, what steps is his Department taking to combat the disinformation about vaccines worldwide? I think that problem is bigger than what we are dealing with today.

Secondly, during the west Africa epidemic of 2014 to 2016, funerals were a major source of Ebola transmission, causing almost 80% of infections in Sierra Leone. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that safe and speedy burials are provided across the worst affected areas?