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Global Disease Detection India Center Event

January 13, 2012
New Delhi, India

Thank you. I am honored to be here.

I want to recognize and thank Joint Secretary Dr. Shukla, as well as Secretary of Health and Family Welfare Pradhan and Director General of Health Services Prasad for their kind words and their continuing partnership.

And I want to congratulate Dr. Chauhan and thank him for his leadership of the National Center for Disease Control.

Over the last three days, our delegation and I have had the opportunity to spend time visiting communities, seeing this beautiful country, and meeting with health care providers, researchers, community leaders, families, and children.  India is such a rich and diverse country, and I still have more to see.  I want to thank you for the hospitality you have already shown us.

I also want to introduce to you a few members of our delegation who you may know: Dr. Tom Frieden, the Director of our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Nils Daulaire, the Director of our Office of Global Affairs, and I want to recognize Steven Smith who serves as the Health Attaché to the U.S. Embassy here.

At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, our work spans every continent and every area of health policy.

And in everything we do, whether it’s in New York or New Delhi, we are motivated by the shared belief that strong, prosperous societies are also healthy societies, and that no goal is more important to our future than improving health.

In the past, we could accomplish this goal by just focusing on our own countries’ needs.  But in a world where people, goods and microbes move across the globe in only a few hours, we can no longer separate global health from our own country’s health.

That mission has been clear to me since my very first day in this job. I was still serving as Governor of Kansas, awaiting approval from Congress to take my new role, when I received a call from the White House telling me that a plane was on its way to pick me up and I needed to be in Washington, D.C. right away.

I landed, was sworn-in in the Oval office by President Obama, and was immediately taken to a high level briefing on the H1N1 flu that included our neighbors in Mexico. Just two hours after I got the job, I was on a call with national and international partners creating a strategy to fight the outbreak. 

And when I finally made it to my office the following day, the first call I got wasn’t from a Member of Congress or an American health official.  It was from World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan, who wanted to discuss how we could coordinate our international response.

Ultimately, partnership between nations helped us avoid the worst predictions in our response to H1NI. And today, that kind of international collaboration is more important than ever.

Global pandemics like the H1N1 flu have always been a threat. But today, they can spread faster and more unpredictably than ever before. They do not respect national boundaries, which makes them a threat to everyone, of every age, gender, and socioeconomic background, in countries of every size and stage of development. When it comes to pandemics, none of us are safe unless all of us are safe.

These realities have taught us that we’re stronger when we work together. And nowhere is that more clear than in our strong partnership with India.

For over 40 years, HHS has supported U.S.-India health collaboration through our attaché assigned to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.  Today, we have a team of more than 30 U.S. and local health professionals who work with our Indian colleagues on issues ranging from food safety to AIDS outreach and prevention to joint biomedical research on cancer. Our collaborations have  had the Government of India’s strong support as we continue working together to address the critical health care challenges here in India and around the world.

And together, along with public and private partners from around the globe, we’ve made great strides.

A few hours ago, I saw one of our amazing achievements in action.  We’ve just come from administering polio vaccine at a local vaccination site – part of a network of health centers that help India vaccinate millions of children against polio each year.  I was particularly touched to play a small part in this effort on this day.  Today is exactly one year since the last reported case of polio in India.

This remarkable achievement truly belongs to India.  Not only did you commit more than one billion of your own dollars, but you also committed the time and hard work to beat this disease. This success also shows the significant impact of strong partnerships.  Polio eradication efforts brought together not just other nations such as Japan and Norway, but also NGOs like the Gates Foundation and Rotary International, and multilateral organizations like the World Health Organization and UNICEF.  This collaboration is the key to keeping India free of polio for many years to come.  

These same partnerships have also helped us make great progress in our collaborative work on influenza-like illness in India, including the ability to detect H1N1 before the outbreak reached India.

In the United States, we know to watch out for flu around the same time of year that we have to take out our winter jackets and gloves.  But as you all know, in India and many other parts of the world, there is no such thing as “flu season” and for that reason, the flu can often go undiagnosed.  Earlier on this trip, I observed firsthand how our CDC partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Ballabghar has allowed us to do valuable surveillance and research on the impact of influenza.  Our collaborations help provide the tools to identify and prepare for potential flu outbreaks, as well as other respiratory infections.

Today, these types of collaborations are more necessary than ever.

Here in India, you face great challenges in public health, and at the same time you have an enormous opportunity to lead in the 21st century. This makes you an invaluable member of the global health partnership among nations.

When President Obama addressed the Indian parliament in 2010, he spoke directly to the Indian people and said: “I want every Indian citizen to know:  The United States of America will not simply be cheering you on from the sidelines.  We will be right there with you, shoulder to shoulder.”

Today, as we commemorate the new Global Disease Detection India Center, we are taking the next concrete steps of our partnership and commitment.

This center is so important because, as our globe gets smaller and more inter-dependent, South Asia will need this kind of dynamic institutional partnership more than ever. The hard and complex work of rapidly detecting, identifying and containing an emerging infectious disease cannot be done alone or in the dark. This sort of activity must be done together.  That’s why these centers have dual roles – both to rapidly detect and respond to disease, but also to share information with the WHO and other global networks and partners.

I am so pleased to see the progress that CDC and NCDC have made in creating this center.  It promises to help India monitor viruses and disease and better handle outbreaks.  By training new field epidemiologists, improving our abilities to detect and diagnose disease, and strengthening both surveillance and emergency operations, the center will improve the health and safety of not just Indians, but people around the world. And as one of only seven Global Disease Detection Centers in the world, the center is also making a statement about the importance of India to international responses to virus and disease.

Our collaborations here and in America ensure that our countries can continue to find new opportunities just like the Global Disease Detection Center as they arise in the future. This is one of the priorities of the U.S.-India Health Initiative that I lead alongside Minister Azad.  We will continue to work closely to ensure our efforts are part of a broader shared vision for the health of our nations.

For decades, our countries have shared a stage as two of the world’s great democracies.  And we have shared successes on issues ranging from civil nuclear agreements to agricultural breakthroughs.  Health can be another chapter in this wonderful story.

In the coming days our delegation will travel to see and learn from India’s great progress on a range of issues from improving child and maternal health to overcoming challenges for food and drug safety to developing strategies for fighting non-communicable disease.

These are lessons our delegation will take home as we continue to try and improve the health of Americans who already benefit from the collaboration of the global health community.

Globalization has brought new health threats to our countries, but also new opportunities to work together to improve the health of all nations.

America remains committed to our partnership with India and I look forward to our many achievements in the future.

Thank you.