OTTAWA - Should Ebola arrive on Canadian soil, Health Minister Rona Ambrose says a team of public health experts and epidemiologists is standing by to provide support, expertise, rapid diagnoses and emergency supplies.
Amid growing global anxiety about the spread of the virus, Ambrose met Wednesday with representatives of the national nurses' union, which has complained of inadequate personal protective gear, training and preparedness for nurses, who would be on the front lines.
She reassured the nurses that they have her full support and that the government is committed to ensuring they have everything they need to feel safe.
And she said the Public Health Agency of Canada would respond to an Ebola case with epidemiologists and experts in infectious disease outbreak management, laboratory expertise to quickly confirm diagnosis, and any needed supplies, such as masks, gloves and face shields.
"It is imperative that all front-line health care workers have guidance and information to deal with Ebola," Ambrose said in a statement.
"They are the first line of defence against infectious diseases and they must be fully included in all communications."
Ambrose also held a conference call with her provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure they are fully prepared to deal with the disease should it make an appearance in Canada.
"On this call I encouraged all provinces and territories to look into doing tests runs to ensure protocols are in place, and proper personal protective gear is available."
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke with the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, about the international effort to control the deadly virus, and promised more help from Canada.
A summary of their conversation, released by Harper's office, said Ban "expressed his appreciation for Canada's contributions to date."
"Prime Minister Harper indicated that Canada would commit additional support to the international effort in the coming days."
The Prime Minister's Office declined to give any further details about the type of support it will offer.
So far, the government has committed $35 million to the World Health Organization, the UN and humanitarian aid groups working the effected region.
It has also donated up to $2.5 million worth of personal protective equipment.
As well, the Public Health Agency of Canada has sent two mobile labs to Sierra Leone. One of the lab teams is working with Medecins Sans Frontieres to provide rapid diagnosis; the other is helping to improve infection prevention and control procedures.
Canada has also offered to donate a Canadian-developed experimental vaccine, currently undergoing clinical trials, to the WHO.
New Democrats asked the federal government Wednesday to be more transparent about the steps being taken to prevent an Ebola outbreak in Canada and to produce the vaccine.
NDP health critic Libby Davies wrote Ambrose, arguing that Canadians need to be kept well informed in order to maintain confidence in the Public Health Agency's ability to handle the crisis.
In her letter, Davies asks Ambrose to answer some specific questions, such as who is responsible for ensuring quarantine and treatment protocols in hospitals and who is responsible for ensuring health workers have the appropriate equipment.
She also wants to know what precautions are being taken to protect Canadians working in the worst-affected areas of West Africa.
Davies is also seeking more information about the experimental vaccine. She wants to know what percentage of the existing supply of the vaccine is being used in the trials, how much will remain for emergency use in Canada, whether production has been increased and when more of the vaccine will be available.
Last week, Liberal health critic Hedy Fry proposed that the House of Commons health committee hold an emergency, four-day meeting to be briefed by Ambrose, the chief public health officer and other experts on the same sort of questions. The committee has made no decision as yet.
"I want to remind Canadians there are no direct flights into Canada from the affected countries in Africa. All international points of entry into Canada are routinely monitored 24/7," Ambrose said in her statement.
"All travellers identified as having arrived in Canada from an affected West African country will now be referred to a Public Health Agency of Canada quarantine officer for a mandatory health assessment. Quarantine officers have the necessary training and equipment to conduct a health assessment, including checking for fever, and determine whether additional public health measures are required."