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West Africa: Ebola

Volume 765: debated on Monday 19 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they assess the potential challenges of economic reconstruction in West Africa following the Ebola epidemic.

My Lords, the UK has committed £54 million to kickstart the recovery in Sierra Leone, and is designing a £240 million programme to help drive sustainable economic growth. We will invest in the private sector and help to make transformative improvements in health systems and public services. We are co-ordinating with donors to ensure that the $5 billion committed towards regional recovery is delivered effectively.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I hope that all noble Lords will join me in sending warm words of support for nurse Pauline Cafferkey as she struggles for her life combating Ebola for the second time. What a tragic situation.

The Ebola epidemic has devastated the economies of the three main countries involved and destroyed their health systems. Huge investment is needed to pull them around. A good deal of this will have to come from the global community, and the IMF and the World Bank have made large promises of investment. How much of that is notional and how much is real, and how much money has actually reached the three countries affected so far?

My Lords, I join the noble Lord in wishing Pauline Cafferkey a speedy recovery. She is being remembered by all for the wonderful work she has done in Sierra Leone. On the noble Lord’s question about the pledge, it is right that we as a country should continue with our supportive work and urge other donors who have committed to the $5 billion to step up and deliver. But as the noble Lord is aware, this work is going to take time. The three countries involved have suffered quite badly, but we can rest assured that the work we are doing with the President of Sierra Leone and through our own programmes is not the short-term application of a plaster and will ensure a long and sustainable recovery.

My Lords, I share the concerns of the House regarding the hoped-for recovery of nurse Cafferkey; we recognise the sacrifice she has made in the interests of the communities we are trying to support. Following the Ebola health crisis, studies for the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group, which I co-chair, confirm the importance of community ownership of health systems and local empowerment through the development of effective community health workforces, together with the resources they need to protect themselves. The letter I received from the Secretary of State this morning appears to confirm that, although the United Kingdom addressed the shortage of health workers and health resources in Sierra Leone during the crisis, a sustainable, localised solution is still needed for the future. What provision is DfID therefore actively making in its forward programming for the long-term health and development assistance at community level that is essential to stabilising and growing local economies?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that we need to work at many levels. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, asked about the work and the commitment of major investors such as the International Monetary Fund. While this work must be done at several levels, I agree that we need to work at local level with civil society and local communities to ensure that they can recognise the situation and respond. The work we have done to date shows the effort we have put in trying to reach a zero rate of Ebola cases. It is important to note that this will be an ongoing, long-term recovery. We are one of the partner countries, and we have led on this issue in Sierra Leone. We now need to ensure that, at all levels, we commit to and retain sustainable, long-term development.

My Lords, I echo what was said about the long-term health consequences for survivors of Ebola here and in the countries affected. One thing that would help economic reconstruction would be the resumption of direct flights to Freetown from this country. Will the Government urgently reconsider their position on this issue? In February of this year, I saw for myself how much co-ordination was needed in the different areas of work to help in the fight at the height of the epidemic. Exactly that sort of co-operation will be needed for the long term. Can the Minister reassure me that the processes are in place to co-ordinate and complement the different agencies and government initiatives from this country that will be there for the long term?

My Lords, initially, the noble Baroness asked about direct flights. The Government introduced a ban on direct flights to Sierra Leone when the number of cases increased rapidly. We continue to keep the situation under review but, ultimately, the safety of the British public has to be at the heart of any decision on the resumption of flights. On greater collaboration, we are working closely with the President on his recovery strategy, and with other agencies on the ground.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is important to learn lessons from this experience and that a greater focus on community mobilisation should be a key resource in controlling future outbreaks?

My Lords, we are learning lessons. We recognised that, initially, responses were slow but we are working very closely with organisations such as the World Health Organization so that we learn the lessons and can respond quickly—globally and internationally—and that the people on the ground and local communities can also respond quickly.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that women have been disproportionately affected by the Ebola crisis? They, of course, are the care givers, farmers, birth attenders, nurses and laundry workers. As a result, 60% of those who have died from Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have been women. What precisely are our Government doing to ensure that support for women is central to our efforts to help restore the protection of people from Ebola?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that the impact on women has been adversely greater socially and economically as a result of the crisis. Addressing the inequalities faced by women and girls will be central to our programming—from basic services to education and livelihoods. However, there is a lot of work to be done and, of course, we will work collaboratively with agencies on the ground to ensure that that happens.