WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today introduced new legislation to boost U.S. efforts to combat the growing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has now claimed more than 1000 lives. The Ebola Eradication Act of 2019 specifically authorizes USAID to provide assistance aimed at improving access to communities affected by Ebola notwithstanding any other provision of law. 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.
The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) currently ranks DRC as a Tier 3 country, which means its government does not meet the minimum standards to combat human trafficking and may be sanctioned, pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Last year, the Trump Administration cited DRC’s Tier 3 ranking as a reason to cut off much of its assistance.
“I fully support the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but the sanctions authorized by that law were never meant to cost innocent lives,” said Senator Menendez. “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 which would help save lives in DRC, and prevent this outbreak from becoming a massive epidemic like the one in West Africa in 2014. This common sense legislation makes clear that USAID can legally move forward with assistance to combat the Ebola outbreak, including to help healthcare workers safely access affected communities.”
To date, mistrust of health care workers has been a significant impediment to efforts by the international community in containing this Ebola 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.