The following are excerpts of remarks by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health, at a June 4 hearing of the Subcommittee on “Eradicating Ebola: Lessons Learned and Medical Advancements”:
I would like to thank Chairwoman Bass for convening this very important and timely hearing.
As she knows, and as some of you may remember, this subcommittee was heavily engaged in the summer of 2014 in addressing Ebola, when we were in the midst of an Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and in Liberia, and the ensuing panic over the disease. We held three hearings during a four-month span, a period when many around the world thought a new equivalent of the bubonic plague was about to jump borders, and overwhelm the health systems especially of sub-Saharan Africa.
**To watch Smith’s opening remarks on C-SPAN, click here.**
Indeed, there was a period where we thought that Nigeria, particularly in Lagos—and Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa—would suffer from a pandemic outbreak, but thanks to the largely unheralded work of a number of key actors – including and especially our own Centers for Disease control – the outbreak was contained. And while we did have cases in the United States, due to highly effective quarantine measures and state-of-the art medical care, we were able to dodge that bullet as well.
Perhaps our witness, Dr. Robert Redfield, can enlighten us further as to the critical role the CDC played with regard to global efforts and containing and then defeating the 2014 Ebola outbreak, particularly in Nigeria, and lessons that have been learned.
Although in many ways today we are better equipped to address Ebola outbreaks, certainly in terms of vaccines that were not readily available in 2014, as a practical, boots-on-the-ground matter we are in some ways worse off dealing with the current outbreak, which began in 2018.
Last year’s outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has now spread in populated areas of the eastern DRC. What makes the situation more difficult this time is the security situation, with attacks, vicious attacks, on health care workers.
As reported by the Washington Post, according to the World Health Organization there had been some 119 attacks against health workers this year (as of May), with some 85 wounded or killed. The presence of expatriates, in particular, among the health care workers appears to have incensed the militants who have carried out the attacks.
When one considers that these dedicated health care workers put their lives on the line to help prevent and treat Ebola, the fact that they should be targeted boggles the mind. Recall the testimony of Dr. Kent Brantley at one of our 2014 hearings, how he contracted the disease despite taking every precaution while helping Ebola patients in Liberia.
We hope to get an update from our witnesses today as to what is the security situation on the ground, and whether we are putting our CDC and other personnel further in harm’s way beyond the threat posed by the Ebola virus.
Finally, I would like to address an issue raised by Chairwoman Bass. There is some concern that assistance to the DR Congo used to combat Ebola will be cut, based on the fact that our State Department has designated the DRC as a Tier 3 country in terms of human trafficking. I certainly hope that this is not the case, as it does not comport with the intent behind such a designation.
As the author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the TVPA requires that we withhold non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign assistance to the government of Tier 3 countries – which means that the country does not fully comply with the minimum standards and is not making significant efforts to do so.
I note that the TVPA explicitly excludes humanitarian and trade-related assistance from any assistance cutoff, and further allows development assistance which directly addresses basic human needs which is not administered by the government. In other words, development assistance can flow via non-state entities or non-governmental organizations, including faith-based actors. Indeed, if one visits the eastern DRC—and I’ve visited it myself—one notices that health and education needs are met largely by faith-based entities, as the government and its institutions are viewed with a great deal of suspicion.
Moreover, section 110 (d)(4) of the TVPA vests the President with waiver authority with respect to non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign assistance when such assistance is in the national interest of the United States – such as seeing the prevention of the spread of Ebola.
Further, the TVPA mandates that the President exercise such waiver authority “when necessary to avoid significant adverse effects on vulnerable populations, including women and children.”
If there is any misunderstanding with respect to how this law should be interpreted or implemented, I know that the Chairwoman and I would be very happy to meet with leaders of the Administration to discuss that.
I do want to note that since Fiscal Year 2018, the American taxpayers have provided approximately $330 million in humanitarian assistance to the DRC, and some $87 million in response to the Ebola crisis. I am further told that additional Congressional Notifications for the DRC will be forthcoming, and I look forward to receiving and reviewing those as well.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and I yield back.