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Menendez Bill to Help Combat Ebola Outbreak in Congo Approved by Senate Committee

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today led the committee in passing his bill to improve the U.S. government’s ability to fight the deadly outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Ebola Eradication Act of 2019 instructs the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide assistance aimed at improving responders’ access to communities affected by Ebola notwithstanding any other provision of U.S. law. The legislation now awaits full consideration by the U.S. Senate.

Menendez introduced the Ebola Eradication Act of 2019 earlier this month after learning about the devastating consequences of the Trump Administration’s decision to enforce stringent aid restrictions on countries with the worst ranking in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). The DRC government currently does not meet the minimum standards to combat human trafficking and may be sanctioned, pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unless the President issues a waiver for nonhumanitarian assistance – which he decided against.  That decision has led to massive confusion about the United States’ ability to carry out life-saving programs to help combat the Ebola outbreak in the DRC.

“This common sense legislation directs the Administrator of USAID to immediately move forward with assistance to combat the Ebola outbreak, including helping healthcare workers safely access affected communities. It is unacceptable that the lack of clarity from the White House on which activities should be restricted due to TIP sanctions is preventing USAID from executing a strategy that would help save lives in DRC, and prevent this outbreak from becoming a massive epidemic.

“We cannot wait to act. We need to ensure dedicated efforts are in place to raise public awareness, cut red tape, improve community access and support efforts to combat Ebola and its devastating impact on communities across the DRC. Addressing the Ebola threat is something we can and should do on a bipartisan basis. Given the situation on the ground, I will continue pushing so that Congress is not forced to play catch-up in responding to this outbreak of historic proportions. We face a public health threat that requires U.S. leadership to tackle the underlying weaknesses of our global health security and help countries detect, prevent and respond to potential outbreaks.”

The latest Ebola outbreak has ravaged the northeastern region of DRC, proving to be increasingly hard to contain due to the country’s ongoing political strife, and risks spreading across the border into neighboring countries. To date, mistrust of health care workers has been a significant impediment to efforts by the international community in containing the outbreak. Experts agree that a new strategy, one which identifies development activities that go beyond health, will be needed to gain the trust of local communities, and pave the way to greater access for health care workers.