[I]t is clear we need to figure out more ways to work together to respond to the current disease outbreaks. We often warn that diseases can rapidly spread through travel or migration, and that is exactly what is happening right now in and around Venezuela.
As Prepared for Delivery
Good morning Director [Carissa] Etienne, fellow ministers, and ambassadors. I am pleased to be here today to participate in this important meeting.
Thank you, Dr. Etienne, for your leadership on the topic we are discussing today. PAHO’s [Pan American Health Organization’s] attention to the refugee and migration crisis in South America, and its work inside Venezuela and neighboring countries, is critically important.
It is also important for all of us to work together on this crisis, which is why we are glad you’ve brought us together today. It is a timely conversation, and we appreciate PAHO’s leadership on health security, which demands regional collaboration.
After hearing the presentations this morning, it is clear we need to figure out more ways to work together to respond to the current disease outbreaks. We often warn that diseases can rapidly spread through travel or migration, and that is exactly what is happening right now in and around Venezuela.
These disease threats imperil our collective health, security and prosperity. Beyond direct threats from infectious diseases, we also recognize the strain that mass migration puts on health systems in affected areas.
The public health crisis in Venezuela and its consequences in neighboring nations, and throughout the entire region, reminds us why we all must be prepared for infectious disease threats. Supporting preparedness and response to infectious threats and promoting the development of resilient health systems are top U.S. health priorities.
The United States continues to ramp up support for emergency response efforts throughout the region, as increasingly vulnerable Venezuelans flee to neighboring countries. In countries hosting Venezuelans, the United States has provided nearly $97 million in humanitarian assistance and more than $43 million in economic and development assistance.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, primarily through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is providing training and technical assistance for public health needs across the region. We are working closely with PAHO and a number of ministries of health to strengthen epidemiological surveillance, vaccine work, laboratory capacity, and public health preparedness.
The U.S. Department of State, through the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is providing emergency food assistance and health services to refugees and migrants in crisis situations.
And the U.S. Agency for International Development is prioritizing emergency food assistance, vaccinations, and other urgently needed health services in communities hosting vulnerable Venezuelans.
Even as our response unfolds, we must also be strengthening the systems that are in place to better address future health challenges.
All of us need to be strong advocates within our respective governments for needed funding and attention to cross-border infectious threats.
As one example, we need more investment in and prioritization of general vaccination coverage. Today, we are seeing the re-establishment of endemic measles transmission in Venezuela for the first time in nearly two decades.
To address the Venezuela situation, the United States has already provided more than $2 million in funding, through UNICEF and other avenues, to purchase more vaccines for both routine immunizations and outbreak responses.
If we do not adequately address outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and protect the disease-elimination achievements that we have made as a region, it will take years and many millions of dollars simply to get back to where we were. We must also continue strengthening core health security capacities in line with the International Health Regulations, including through Joint External Evaluations.
Much more work is ahead of us, on this crisis and in our preparedness efforts. But through productive exchanges like this one today, we will find ways to address today’s crisis and create a healthier and more secure future for our hemisphere. Thank you all for your commitment to this important issue.