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The European Commission and the U.S. have given more than $250 million in additional funding. The U.S. has a 26-person disaster response team in place, and the U.S. military has trained 230 armed forces of Liberia personnel on the proper use of personal protective equipment, safe handling of patients, securing health sites, and escorting humanitarian and medical personnel. The United States has also sent more than 70 disease control experts to West Africa who are providing technical expertise to national public health institutions and agencies to help protect and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, and have put in place a second Ebola testing laboratory.
The world has changed since June when the House of Commons rose for the summer. In response to the dramatic displacement crisis in Iraq, the UN declared its fourth level-three humanitarian crisis. The violence with which the Islamic State is terrorizing civilians is heart wrenching. The food security crisis in South Sudan has worsened and we continue to witness violent conflict, cultural and religious strife in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Syria. In addition, we are witnessing an unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
MPs, who have spent the summer doing important constituency work, will need to devote some of their attention to these international issues as they return to Ottawa.
The United Nations warns that almost one million South Sudanese children under five years of age will require treatment for acute malnutrition in 2014. In fact, one out of every three people in the country, or the equivalent of 3.9 million people, is estimated to be dangerously food insecure. Close to 2 million people have fled their homes. The United Nations Security Council calls the catastrophic food insecurity situation in South Sudan the worst in the world, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls it the “most rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the world”.
MPs should demand to know whether the Government of Canada will provide a second round of humanitarian funding, particularly as it did not pledge additional funds at the May 2014 donor pledging conference, which raised more than $600 million.
MPs must not turn a blind eye to the suffering in South Sudan, nor can they ignore the conflicts of CAR, Iraq and Syria. MPs have a collective responsibility to protect, and it is urgent.
In CAR, violence against civilians is pervasive despite the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping mission, a European Union military operation, and French forces.
Six months ago, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights asked, “How many more children have to be decapitated, how many more women and girls will be raped, how many more acts of cannibalism must there be, before we really sit up and pay attention?”
By June 2014, over 140,000 people had been killed in CAR; 80 percent of the Muslim population has been driven from their homes or murdered. The fighting had left 2.5 million people, more than half of the total population, needing humanitarian aid. Less than half of the humanitarian response is funded.
MPs should ask whether the Government of Canada will provide additional, non-budgetary, assistance beyond its assessed and financial contributions, and whether it will contribute to the UN peacekeeping mission. Moreover, will the Harper Government send specialized military assets and will it help build the capacity of Francophone African peacekeepers?
MPs should also ask about the security situation in Iraq, which has dramatically deteriorated as a result of ongoing attacks by the Islamic State (IS), which operates on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border, and has declared a caliphate spanning both countries.
IS has demonstrated “absolute and deliberate disregard for human rights”. In response, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the international community to support the government and people of Iraq and “to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq”.
MPs should question the Government about details of its newly announced military mission, and what is being done to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs). MPs should understand that the Iraqi government must not only confront the security threat posed by IS and other armed groups, but also protect civilians and address the underlying sources of conflict among Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and minorities in Iraq.
And MPs must not forget Syria, where the civil war leaves populations facing mass atrocity crimes committed by state security forces and affiliated militias. Some armed opposition groups are also committing war crimes.
After more than three years of conflict in Syria, over 191,000 people have been killed. There are over 2.9 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and over 6.5 million IDPs. At least 10.8 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.
With no end in sight, MPs should ask more forcefully what action the Government of Canada is taking to apply diplomatic pressure towards finding a political solution to the conflict and to increase humanitarian assistance. Moreover, they should ask the Government why it has agreed to resettle only 1,300 refugees.
And finally, MPs should ask about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, affecting five countries. In many areas of intense transmission, the actual number of cases may be two to four fold higher than that currently reported, and the aggregate case load of Ebola virus disease cases could exceed 20,000 over the course of this emergency.
MPs should ask what more the Government is considering to assist its international partners to provide aid in the affected regions, particularly as the international response has been inadequate, and the world is losing the battle to control Ebola. The reality is that we need to dramatically scale up the international response.
MPs must ask about conflicts which “shock the global conscience” and focus their attention and efforts on the most vulnerable, whether in CAR, Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, or Western Africa.
And MPs must ask: is the Government of Canada really doing all it can to help?
The hardest part about being an MP is finding yourself in a situation where you can’t help people who are hurting. I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve gotten from desperate families across Canada this summer looking for help for children suffering from eating disorders.
The calls were all similar: A child had been “thrown out” of care because he or she refused to eat. “What do they expect?” the parents told me. “She has an eating disorder. Where do we go now?”
I wish I had better answers to give them. Some 600,000 to 990,000 Canadians may be suffering from anorexia, binge eating or bulimia. Eating disorders kill an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Canadians annually.
Canada has no national eating disorder strategy, even though anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate among mental health disorders. Women with anorexia are 12 times more likely to die than women of the same age without the condition.
There are also far too few psychiatrists specializing in eating disorders; nationally, only 12 out of 4,100. Not every province offers the full range of care, from daily care to long-term residential care. In February, Ontario announced the first long-term, publicly-funded residential treatment program in the province — offering, at the moment, 12 beds for children and adolescents. This means at least some Ontarians with eating disorders may no longer be forced to go abroad for private health care, and to return with little follow-up care. But what about the rest of the country?
One mother asked me this question: “Do you know what it is like to watch your child fade away before your eyes, and be told, sorry there is no hospital bed?” Several of the families I heard from only received a diagnosis after their children’s friends told them lunches were being thrown out every day, or thrown up in washrooms. “The doctor kept saying she was fine,” one mother told me. “You’d think they’d know by now normal-weight teens can have an eating disorder.”
Canadians living with anorexia, binge eating and bulimia — along with their families, their doctors and other stakeholders — are calling for a pan-Canadian strategy to address eating disorders, including early diagnosis, access to the full range of necessary care, a national registry and a robust research program.
They want the federal government to work with the provinces, territories and stakeholders to develop a centralized database of treatment programs. They also ask that the government work with its counterparts to address challenges in treating eating disorders, such as the inadequate number and uneven distribution of programs across the country, long wait times, and a lack of pan-Canadian, evidence-based treatment standards.
They ask for health system navigators to help steer them through the confusing and overwhelming world in which they are embroiled. They want multidisciplinary care teams, and help in covering the steep cost of treatment.
They want an education campaign to promote public awareness of eating disorders, to beat back stereotypes and stigma, to foster a positive sense of self and counteract unrealistic images of beauty and thinness.
They also ask that the government consider putting in place a national research chair in eating disorders and increase funding for eating disorders research.
And they eagerly await the Status of Women committee report on eating disorders. They want to know whether their pleas have actually been heard, and whether there will be real recommendations to help struggling families — because the status quo is unacceptable.
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