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Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 5 November 2014

2. What progress her Department has made on its work with the Ministry of Defence to tackle the Ebola crisis in west Africa. (905889)

3. Whether pledges made by the international community at the “Defeating Ebola” conference in London on 2 October 2014 are being fulfilled. (905890)

The UK is leading the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, committing £230 million so far. We are providing 700 beds, including at the Kerry Town treatment facility that opened today, ensuring safe burials are taking place, providing more community care and helping to train health care workers. The “Defeating Ebola” conference we held in London last month generated more than £100 million of support to the overall response.

I am aware that my right hon. Friend recently visited Sierra Leone. Can she update the House on any specific projects she witnessed there that would reassure me and my constituents that we are doing all we can to fight this?

I can. We can be very proud of the role the UK is playing: both the public’s response to the recent Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which shows the British people’s generosity, and the work the Ministry of Defence is doing. I had the chance to see the Kerry Town facility as it was nearing completion a couple of weeks ago. It is opening today to treat patients and will save lives and stop the spread of the infection.

The Secretary of State will know that the international community has a very proud record of making pledges when international crises happen, but a very poor record of delivering on the pledges. Given that every day delayed means more lives lost to the Ebola crisis, what pressure is she applying to the international community and all agencies to ensure that they deliver on their promises?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise these issues. The UN General Assembly and World Bank meetings were good opportunities for me to raise them, as was the recent EU Council, at which the Prime Minister successfully pushed to get more than £1 billion of support. We are now seeing many of the pledges made at the London conference come through. The most recent example is that the Norwegians will now be providing health care workers to help us operate some of those core facilities.

The Secretary of State and many Members of this House will be familiar with the heartbreaking and moving diary of a young doctor from Huddersfield working in Sierra Leone. I hope she agrees that we owe Africa. Whatever we are doing, we are not doing enough: can we do more?

As I said, I think we should be proud of the work we are doing, and we are doing a huge amount. Alongside the beds we are providing, we are helping to make sure that burials can take place safely, we are scaling up the training of health care workers—800 a week are being trained by the MOD—and we are rolling out more community care. As the hon. Gentleman says, this care is often being delivered by volunteers from Sierra Leone, who are involved in safe burials, and from our own country, and we should thank them for their generosity of spirit.

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking those dedicated workers from Sierra Leone, the UK and across the world who are risking their lives to tackle this? Will she also ensure that the UK Government’s cross-departmental working delivers a long-term legacy to Sierra Leone of a strong health service capable of preventing any such disaster from happening again?

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has given me the chance to give a very personal thank you to my staff, who have really played a role in leading our efforts on the ground in Africa, pulling together the MOD, Public Health England, and NHS workers—who have done an amazing job—alongside our Foreign Office staff. We have nearly doubled our DFID team in Sierra Leone. Many of them are people who thought they would be doing something entirely different, but are now working round the clock to tackle Ebola. We should be proud of what we are doing. My right hon. Friend is of course right that we should also look to ensure that we can strengthen health care systems in countries such as Sierra Leone, so they are better placed in future to combat these challenges on their own.

We support the actions of this Government on Ebola, but the sluggishness of the international response raises alarming questions about the functioning of the World Health Organisation. There were warnings in April that the epidemic was unprecedented and in June that it was out of control but, amid reports of political leveraging and deliberate delay, the WHO waited until August to declare Ebola an international public health emergency. Will the Secretary of State tell me what exactly her Department has done to enact reform of the WHO since she came to office?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one of the principal measures that we introduced was the multilateral aid review, which looks systematically across multilateral bodies to understand whether they give the taxpayer good value for money. We will continue to do that. As he says, a key element of the Ebola crisis has been the lack of a co-ordinated response at the beginning, and we need to learn from that.

It was the fundamental lack of basic health coverage in pockets of west Africa that allowed this outbreak to go unchecked for so long. That was one element in the so-called perfect storm of Ebola. At present, the next worldwide deal on development calls merely for healthy lives and well-being, so will the Secretary of State now go further in strengthening the language of the stand-alone goal on health? Will she match the Labour party’s commitment to universal, guaranteed health care for all?

This Government have finally honoured the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on aid, and we have significantly increased our spend in relation to providing critical health care. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are also playing a leading role in ensuring that the post-2015 development framework does indeed get great health outcomes for people in developing countries.