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Ebola

Volume 589: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2014

The United Kingdom is leading the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, from where I have just returned. We have already committed £230 million and delivered over 880 treatment and isolation beds. We have opened three laboratories, and we have doubled the number of burial teams.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. The World Health Organisation believes that since February 2014 there have been nearly 18,000 recorded Ebola cases and 6,000 deaths. According to Dr Frieden, the director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, speed of response is the key to ending epidemics affecting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In the light of her visit, will the Secretary of State indicate what further actions can be taken, notwithstanding what has already been done?

Yes, of course. We will continue to deliver the promises we have made such as getting hospitals open and delivering extra beds. A key announcement I made during my visit over the past few days was to provide more protection for the many children affected by the crisis. Many of them are orphaned or themselves suffering from Ebola and needing to recover. There will be lots more support for them. I can assure the hon. Lady that as we are able to scale up the operation, we will reach more and more patients.

I would like to thank, through the Secretary of State, the British personnel who are engaged in tackling the outbreak. Following up the question on the WHO, does she acknowledge that it did not respond quickly enough and that its mechanisms are not really fit for purpose? Will she press for a review of the workings of the WHO so that it can be more efficient in future?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to learn some lessons from how the WHO and the international community has responded to the crisis. Speed was of the essence, so I think there are lots of lessons to be learned. I had a chance to meet some of the amazing UK personnel working on our behalf, including some fantastic NHS health workers who are out there providing front-line care.

May I commend the Government for what they have done so far? How much of the money spent was directed towards projects to do with health awareness as opposed to dealing with the after-effects of Ebola?

We have a several million pound programme that is focused particularly on so-called social mobilisation. It is about training community workers to go out into communities and talk to people about how they can take practical steps themselves to reduce the risk of catching Ebola. Of course, the work we are doing in putting in place safe burial teams, which are now burying 100% of bodies safely in the main western area zone and 95% across the country, is one of the key ways in which we can stop the infection from spreading further.

The Secretary of State mentioned the toll on children in Africa—the number of Ebola orphans adding to the huge number of AIDS orphans. Will she join me in encouraging people at Christmas time to make a donation through British charities that work especially among the children of Africa?

I certainly would. Two journalists from the Sunday Mirror accompanied me on my visit, and they are running an important campaign with Street Child, which is seeking to raise money to do precisely what my right hon. Friend suggests. We work with that charity, too, and we will continue to do more.