The hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert will have five minutes to complete her comments when the House resumes debate on this motion.
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.
Before I recognize the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, I must inform her that she has five minutes left for her speech today. Of course she will have more time when the House resumes debate.
Mr. Speaker, I agree.
I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her very wonderful comments today and also for moving the amendment.
The amendment is important. We have held some discussions with the government, and I think the wording that is now being presented as an amendment would allow a better opportunity for the government to respond to the thalidomide survivors task force. I thank the hon. member for moving the amendment today in the House.
I have a comment and a question for the hon. member.
It seems to me that, for thalidomide survivors, the issue of daily living is critically important. There are clearly medical challenges, and the member pointed out in her speech that some of these medical challenges might even be beyond the regular nature of the health care system. It may well be that we will need to have special interventions.
I wonder if the member could speak a little more about some of the daily issues and concerns that have emerged for thalidomide survivors who are finding is so difficult to cope on a daily basis. I think the article in The Globe and Mail laid this out very carefully, and I wonder if the member could comment on that.
That, in the opinion of the House: (a) full support should be offered to survivors of thalidomide; (b) the urgent need to defend the rights and dignity of those affected by thalidomide should be recognized; and (c) the government should provide support to survivors, as requested by the Thalidomide Survivors Taskforce.
Mr. Speaker, first I would like to start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
I am very honoured to rise in the House today to speak to this very important and historic motion from the NDP.
The motion before us calls on the government to right the wrong of the tragic consequences that took place, when, in 1961, the Government of Canada approved the sale of thalidomide as a safe drug for the treatment of morning sickness for pregnant women. It is so important today that we speak out collectively and with one voice, as Parliament, to understand and to address this urgent and tragic issue.
I would like to thank the member for Outremont, the leader of the official opposition, for agreeing to and giving his full support to this motion being brought forward today. I would also like to thank members from all sides because we now know that the government will be supporting this motion with a slight amendment. I am very thankful for that. We have had a lot of discussion. It is historic and important that today we will be speaking in this debate, and we will be bringing forward the visibility of this issue. I hope that on Monday we will be voting on this motion and that it will be a unanimous vote.
On Tuesday, I had the honour to be joined, with my colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, by two members of the thalidomide survivors task force. Mercédes Benegbi and Josée Lake came from Montreal to join us in a press conference, where they spoke and shared some of their experiences of what it has been like, over more than 50 years, to be a thalidomide survivor. It was very moving to hear their words and to hear them speak about their deeply personal experience, and of the experience of 95 survivors in Canada. Hearing what they had to say is a day that I will not forget.
I am also very thankful that the people at The Globe and Mail decided to focus on this issue. We saw the original story that they did last Saturday, which was a very comprehensive piece. It gave us the history and background, and brought us to the current situation today, with so many survivors living in pain and suffering and with great financial hardship. To me, it was one of those moments when a whole bunch of things came together. We have to recognize that the thalidomide survivors have for 50-plus years been living in a way that has been quite invisible.
It is a story that we are aware of. I remember when we debated Bill C-17 in the House, on drug safety, a bill that we supported. I remember that when I debated that bill in the House, I mentioned the history of thalidomide. I did not know then that a few months later we would actually be debating the issue of thalidomide. There is some continuity here, and some historical importance to what we are doing. Of course, drug safety in this country is critically important, and although we would have liked to see some improvements to it, the bill that was passed a few months ago was a very important bill.
When we look at history and see what has taken place in this country around drug safety, and we look at this terrible tragic situation that took place in the early 1960s, it is so compelling. It speaks to the core of why we are here. As parliamentarians and legislators, we need to pay attention and ensure that there is proper regulatory oversight for drug safety.
When this drug was first brought on to the market in the early sixties, it was deemed to be safe. The tragedy is that when the story began to unfold and the consequences began to be known about women who had miscarriages and babies being born with terrible deformities, Canada was very slow to react. It took decades, right up until 1991, for there to be even some discussion around compensation.
If we look at the amount of compensation that was given in 1991, we can see how terribly inadequate the small settlements were to the survivors. It really did nothing to help them. They even had to sign gag orders that they would not speak out afterward. The small settlements they got in no way dealt with the long-term effects of what they were dealing with.
We know today that the consequences of thalidomide have left people dealing with very severe and debilitating pain. It has taken 50 years of work, which has taken a toll on them, not only emotionally and financially, but of course physically. Many of the survivors are now suffering from nerve damage and painful wear and tear on their bodies. It has caused enormous challenges for them, including the loss of the ability to use their limbs to care for themselves, and damage to their spines and joints, which severely limits their mobility. It has impacted on their ability to gain employment. It means that they have often had to depend on others for very basic tasks, such as using the toilet, dressing, preparing meals, doing all of the daily things we take for granted.
Fifty years later, with this group of people who are aging, the health consequences of what they face have become even more serious. It is critical that we not lose more time. There are only 95 thalidomide survivors left in Canada. I believe there were originally about 120 people; some have already died. As these survivors age, their health and financial needs will only grow.
Time is of the essence, and it is very important that we take a stand today and that Parliament speak out. New Democrats call on the government to right the wrong and immediately sit down with the survivors task force to begin the work to arrive at a just settlement for the survivors. That is what this motion would accomplish if it is passed. I want to stress that time is of the essence. We cannot lose another day, week, or year.
There are some precedents in terms of what other countries have done. For example, the government in the United Kingdom is providing regular payments to survivors. Germany offered a one-time lump sum payment. The thalidomide survivors task force is asking the government to sit down and work with it in creating a program that would provide a one-time payment to address people's immediate needs, as well as ongoing payments that would assist individuals based on their own individual circumstances. It is something that needs to be done based on individual needs.
I have had a lot emails over the last couple of days, and I want to refer to one from a former colleague, Penny Priddy, who was a member of Parliament for Surrey. She wrote:
It was the summer of 1963 and I was working at HSC/Sick Kids in Toronto. Her name was “Maria”. She was about a year old. [...]
“Maria” was born without arms. [...] Her legs were not able to support any weight. Her mother had taken thalidomide. [...]
Given what we know, I expect her life was filled with challenges and barriers that required a strength that many of us cannot begin to imagine. [...]
Thank you...for listening to the voices of all of the Marias' who were victims of a system that was so rushed to get a questionable drug to market that they did not consider the unthinkable legacy that they were creating for its smallest citizens.
Today, with this motion, we have an opportunity to right that wrong, and I thank all members of the House who will be supporting it.
Order. The time has expired, but we will give the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert 40 seconds to respond.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak about a world crisis.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
Eleven years ago, Toronto was overwhelmed by a virus, which arrived from Hong Kong, called SARS. I want to give the House some appreciation of the impact. It is estimated that it cost the world $40 billion in health care and productivity costs. We are coming close to that figure now for the Ebola crisis. Estimates of a $30-billion cost, just to try to corral the disease, have come to light, and Canadians are telling us in great numbers that Canada should be doing as much as it possibly can, including sending military response teams, which so far the government has refused to do.
I want to come back to the SARS experience. My wife had a very personal experience with the SARS outbreak. She was diagnosed with breast cancer just after the hospitals started closing in Toronto. The hospitals started closing in Toronto because the SARS outbreak was impossible to corral. People did not really understand it and did not know what to do. All of a sudden, her surgery to remove part of her breast was cancelled, because the hospitals were no longer accepting patients. Now she had a rapidly growing tumour in her body that could not be removed.
Somehow our family doctor managed to find a doctor willing to do the operation at a hospital in Toronto. It was one of the most eerie and disturbing experiences anyone could hope to imagine. Late in the evening, I had to pull up to the outside of the hospital and let her go in on her own. I was not allowed in. She had to check in with the security guard and then find her own way to the 11th floor, where she was the only person. She had to go to her own bed and wait there in the hope that someone would show up. That is how empty that hospital was. The next day, a surgeon and a small surgical team operated. That experience was repeated over and over again in Toronto as Toronto tried to deal with the very real problem of trying to maintain a health system while the health system itself was under attack.
Something that I am not sure everybody here understands is that one of the potential problems with this disease is that it is so easily spread that even health care workers who are taking extreme precautions, as has been the case in Dallas and Spain, have become infected. No one is really certain why these health care workers became infected, because they should not have. They had been taking precautions. If that is the ease with which this disease can spread, how are hospitals in my city of Toronto going to cope when and if cases of Ebola, and I do not think it is a matter of if but of when, start arriving in greater numbers than we have already experienced?
There are currently 9,000 or so reported cases of Ebola in West Africa, and there is no travel ban. There is no limit on people travelling out of that area. The incubation period for this disease before any symptoms arise is between two and 21 days. That means that people can be travelling while infected and not know it. We are apparently conducting some voluntary screening of some passengers who are coming from these affected places, but I am very afraid that we are going to have a very serious problem should this disease make its inexorable travel to more countries, including Canada.
The mayor of my city has learned, as have I, that the government has declared at least one hospital in Toronto and 10 in Ontario as special hospitals for dealing with potential Ebola cases. In a letter to the Prime Minister that I do not believe has been responded to yet, the mayor asked for more details on the Government of Canada's plans to protect residents of Toronto and the GTA should any cases of the Ebola virus be positively identified in Canada and in Toronto.
A Toronto hospital has been designated to care for Canadian responders if any become infected in the Ebola zone in West Africa and are transferred back to Canada for care. We have a situation in which the government has decided, absent the City of Toronto, that it will designate a hospital, with all good intentions, I am sure. However, the people of Toronto should know what is going on. There should be some transparency. The mayor has asked for that transparency. We, too, would like that transparency.
The member for Vancouver East has asked similar questions of the Minister of Health, questions about who is responsible for ensuring quarantine and about who is responsible for making sure that the hospitals and medical practitioners have the appropriate equipment.
It has become clear that the equipment that we thought was appropriate is not working, because 20% of the victims of this virus are health care workers. That means that they are not able to protect themselves. As we have found out, two, one in Texas and one in Spain, became infected while caring for a patient with all of the west's most modern equipment. Something is wrong with the approach we are taking.
There are a number of other questions I will not go through, but those questions deserve answers. The Minister of Health needs to respond to our critic for health so that we can have a dialogue, so that we can begin the process the Liberal opposition day motion would like to continue, which is to continue the process of providing information to members of Parliament, through the committee, on a twice monthly basis.
That, in itself, is not enough. There will need to be a whole lot more done, but it is a good start. We will be supporting this motion.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that in my riding of York South—Weston, there is a company called Tagg Design that two years ago developed a system for hospitals to use to protect themselves, to protect health care workers and others, from the transmission of infectious diseases inside a hospital. That system was a system of signage, a system of making sure that doors were sealed and that doors had signs on them to say that the patient behind the door required this kind of protection for the health care workers.
We wrote to the Minister of Health at the time and asked for a meeting to discuss this kind of system, which the WHO is very interested in and which Canadian hospitals that have tried it have found to be effective.
We asked the minister for a meeting to discuss how the Government of Canada could assist in promoting this kind of inside-the-hospital protection against the transmission of infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the minister refused to meet with us. We had an indication from the government that it was really not interested in proactive measures to protect health care workers from the spread of infectious diseases, and not just health care workers but other people who use those hospitals.
We know that the government would rather just let things take place. Apparently it has designated a hospital, and we do not know which one, as the place where people will go. We do not know whether that will then require the closure of that hospital.
If a hospital is declared the place where Canadian health care workers go if they contract Ebola, and that hospital is in my city, I would like to know. The medical staff of that hospital would probably like to know that the hospital has been so designated so they can start planning around it, so they can start determining whether it has to rearrange the schedules for surgeries and other care for patients who are there. It is quite likely, given the experiences in Texas and Spain, that if a number of patients with Ebola arrive at a hospital, we are going to see it close. We are going to see that hospital become, itself, quarantined.
That is an effect of this disease that has yet to be discussed in any form. It has been asked about, by our mayor and others. What are the government's plans? As of this moment, we do not have answers, and we need those answers. This motion will help give us those answers.
Mr. Speaker, as I begin I will mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
As we have heard tonight, the world faces a clear crisis with the Ebola virus. In fact, we are just hearing as of tonight that the United States has asked that a special meeting be convened by the Security Council this Thursday, which clearly shows that it is not just our Parliament but our friends and allies who are seized with this. I thank my colleague for asking for this debate. There will be a Security Council session this Thursday, and I think that is important.
As members know, we are also seized and will be discussing tomorrow night the issue of ISIS and Iraq. These two crises are worthy of our attention and our support. The case of Ebola, of course, is a very different scenario than dealing with what is happening in Iraq, but it requires a well-thought-out plan. It requires Canada to do everything it can as a responsible actor to help out, because this is a global phenomenon.
As we know, viruses travel across borders. We went through that not that long ago with SARS. Hopefully we have learned from that experience that if we have medicines that can help, we make them available and that we have an appropriate civil response. However, in this case, it is really about doing everything we can to help people particularly in West Africa.
We have already heard some of the numbers tonight, but I will underline them, because they are worth repeating. According to the World Health Organization, over 4,200 cases of Ebola have been recorded. We know the countries are Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea. More than 2,200 people have died in a very short window. That is why this is so very important.
I have to give credit to those in civil society, in particular, Médecins Sans Frontières, who called this crisis to the world's attention. I guess I have to say that, sadly, not all of us were paying attention. However, I have to give credit to these people, because they put their lives on the line. They have done splendid work.
There is a prediction by the World Health Organization that we are talking about up to 20,000 people being infected over the next three months. The proliferation of this disease is massive and clearly needs all hands on deck to do everything we can to contain and stop it.
Further, if the virus does not mutate into an even more dangerous virus, which we hope it does not, because we know what would happen then, and if the international community can work together, we have a chance to contain it and make sure that fewer people will be infected. Clearly, more people will be infected because of the nature of this virus, but if we make sure that we do everything we can to isolate it and help those countries that need the help, then we have a good chance of containing it.
There is an important point that we have talked about in the House many times. We talked about this when we were dealing with the issue of the Central African Republic and the Sahel region. These are countries that cannot afford to respond in the way Canada and other countries can. This is why it is so very important, absolutely critical, that we do everything we can to help support the countries I mentioned. In particular, the countries are already stressed when it comes to providing basic health care, so when there is a crisis like this, we have to do everything we can.
Liberia particularly is severely challenged in controlling the spread of disease. Medical supplies are desperately low, and more and more health workers and doctors are themselves contracting the disease. I do not have to tell members that when we have the people on the front lines infected with the virus, clearly there is a capacity problem and an inability to respond appropriately.
According to the director of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, there is not a single hospital bed available in Liberia, not one, because they are all taken by infected individuals. Clearly, there is a capacity problem there that can be dealt with.
Facilities are at full capacity, and all of the resources are presently exhausted, both the human resources and the basic materials they use to respond to health care crises.
This cascades into something else. When the front-line workers and capacity are taken up, it is not just a health issue but a security crisis as well. This is reflected in terms of governance, and we have talked a bit about that tonight. As well, there is transportation. How do they get people who are infected to the appropriate health care facilities? If the health care facilities are not there, what do they do? That is why we have been talking about a DART and the other models we have, and there are others around the world we should be talking to our allies about. Hopefully the Security Council will focus on what each member state can do to help out in a coordinated fashion. It is not just a health care crisis; it is a crisis around security, ultimately.
The way the disease is spread is spontaneous. It challenges the kind of global infrastructure we have. When there are countries that can least afford to respond on the front lines, it is obvious that we must do everything we can to help out, such as reinforcing the infrastructure they have, building more capacity, and providing human resources and infrastructure, such as beds. In a way, it is similar to what we will be talking about tomorrow, which is the refugee crisis. When I was in northern Iraq, they asked that we build refugee camps. In this case, it is to build hospitals and provide the services. They have that similarity. It needs a global response, and Canada has to do its part. I think that is what we are hearing from the government tonight. I was glad to hear of the $2 million. Clearly we will have to evaluate things and see if we can provide more.
Global transportation networks are being turned into vectors for spreading diseases. That is why people are quite rightly concerned. The way people travel and move around now, diseases can spread very quickly to more countries and continents. As the disease spreads internationally and encounters new populations, it is increasingly critical to understand the mutations and to monitor what is happening.
As domestic security and transportation networks become less stable because those populations, countries, and continents are affected, governments face real difficulties meeting the broader needs of their people. When a certain region and area becomes paralyzed, everything comes to a halt. They are putting all of their resources into responding to the crisis. Widespread panic sets in, which undermines dealing with it in a calm way, which causes what we have already seen, which is social unrest. This is very sensitive, and we must be smart in how we respond.
In requesting increased international support, the Liberian president said that the epidemic “threatens civil order”.
Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota said, “the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has the potential to alter history as much as any plague has ever done”, so on this note, Canada must help.
I did not know this before doing the work on this tonight, but Malaysia produces most of the world's rubber gloves and has recently committed 20 million pairs for medical use. Canada should use its expertise to show leadership to help.
In closing, not only should we have a DART, we should also provide the other needs that have been asked for, and that is the experts we have, the medical professionals, and particularly experts in public health. If we are to help deal with this crisis, all hands have to be on deck, and clearly Canada has a role to play.
Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the bill brought forward by the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert fails to recognize the progress that we have been making. It is unenforceable and amends the wrong act.
Companies are posting about shortages online because, with our approach, it gives doctors the information they need. We will continue to monitor whether companies make information on shortages available to doctors and patients voluntarily. If they do not, we are open to considering a mandatory approach.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, for bringing forward Bill C-523. It is a straightforward bill and one that is really needed. Basically, it would amend the Department of Health Act to oblige drug suppliers to advise the Minister of Health of any interruption or cessation of the production, distribution, or importation of drugs and oblige the minister to prepare and implement an emergency response plan to address drug shortages. It is straightforward and necessary.
In debate tonight, we have heard how serious the issue of drug shortages has been. There are thousands of patients and families across Canada who have suffered terrible anxiety, pain, and stress because they suddenly have found out that the prescription they require as a pain control measure or for epilepsy or a special condition is not available. It has had a huge impact on the medical community, pharmacists, doctors, anesthesiologists, and hospitals. By and large, the biggest impact on Canadians and what is causing the greatest anxiety and suffering is that their health and well-being have been compromised as a result of these shortages.
I am proud of the fact that the NDP has been monitoring and pushing for accountability on drug shortages ever since it became visible that there was a huge issue that was not being addressed by the federal government. In March of 2012, we brought forward a motion in the House of Commons for the government to, in co-operation with the provinces, territories and industries, develop a nationwide strategy to anticipate, identify and manage shortages of essential medications, require drug manufacturers to report promptly to Health Canada, and so on. It was adopted unanimously. It clearly laid out a course of action that needed to be taken. It was interesting that the government supported the motion in May of 2012.
We also tried to call for a review of that motion a year later to find out what progress had been made. We heard something in that regard from the parliamentary secretary tonight. A multi-stakeholder steering committee was set up with the provinces and health care organizations on purchases and supplies. We had a briefing in October of this year from Health Canada to find out how that work was going, and we still have significant concerns about drug shortages in Canada. As a result of that briefing in October of this year, I wrote to the Minister of Health on October 29 outlining some of the concerns we had.
Our major concern is that although the government has set up this multi-stakeholder steering committee and does involve the key players, there is still no system in place for accountability and to ensure that suppliers live up to their obligations. As we heard tonight, the system that has been put in place is basically a voluntary one, so there is no accountability to ensure it is being followed. As a result, it is left to regional purchasers such as hospitals, health authorities, and the provinces to chase after the suppliers to find out what problems there are and what they need to do.
The second concern I identified to the minister was that accountability should also extend to how the shortages were reported. I pointed out that there was only a voluntary system in place for companies to report shortages, and no consequences if they did not immediately report them, even in delays that would compromise patient health. This particular point is very much at the heart of my colleague's bill. We have been pressing for a required or mandatory reporting system. As we have heard, this is in place in the United States, New Zealand, and the European Union. It is a good practice and one we should be emulating.
The third issue that we have identified as a concern, as a result of hearing about the progress that has been made, is that there is no system in place that tracks systemic manufacturing violations. We know from Health Canada that it has identified approximately 46% of drug shortages are due to manufacturing issues, including safety violations, yet there has been no way to track which companies may be negligent in their production. In fact, Health Canada officials stated to us that they had not yet been able to address the root causes and the preventive measures that were required to address drug shortages. A system of accountability for manufacturing standards would also help in minimizing drug shortages.
Therefore, while I appreciate that the minister has taken some steps, frankly speaking, they are not adequate. They have not gone far enough. Out in the health community there is still an enormous amount of concern that we will face further shortages, that we will be scrambling as we did in 2012, that there will be yet another crisis. At the end of the day, it will be Canadians who are already in very difficult circumstances and who are already in many ways suffering, maybe in chronic pain, who will bear the brunt of a system that is not working properly.
The last comment I want to make is that we have studied this issue quite carefully. In fact, the parliamentary health committee had a study on drug shortages. The report issued by the committee was okay, it was adequate, but we felt it did not go far enough. Therefore, in the minority report from the NDP we made a number of recommendations, which I would like to refer to.
We urged the Minister of Health and the federal government to review the appropriate federal agency to assume responsibility for drug shortages notification website and to work with its provincial and territorial counterparts to set up and provide an investment for a public mandatory reporting system whereby drug companies would be required by law to report supply disruptions.
We also urged the Minister of Health and the government to convene an expert committee to identify critical drugs and require that any company marketing these critical drugs would have to give Health Canada a minimum of six months' warning of supply reductions.
Finally, there were other recommendations, but we also urged the Minister of Health and the federal government to convene a study to identify factors causing the drug shortages to determine if there were regulatory measures in addition to mandatory reporting that would identify and prevent drug shortages.
These are very extensive recommendations that we made.
I will finish with this. I was a bit aghast at the parliamentary secretary's comments earlier. On the one hand, she said that they were not going to support the bill because it sought to expand the role of the federal government and sought to expand the bureaucracy. She kind of trashed it. Then in the next breath she said that they would support mandatory reporting if it was needed. It seems to me that there is a contradiction. Conservatives supported the motion last year that came through the House as a result of an emergency debate.
Let us focus on the issue. Let us ensure that there is a system in place as outlined in this very good bill. It is very straightforward. Let us learn from what has happened in other jurisdictions and let us do a better job in Canada. We are not convinced the multi-stakeholder process that is in place now will actually do the job that is required. We urge members of the House to consider the bill and to support it when it comes to a second reading vote.
The electoral district of Saint-Bruno--Saint-Hubert (Quebec) has a population of 101,416 with 79,183 registered voters and 246 polling divisions.
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