SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. Please take a seat. Wonderful to see you all here this morning. And this is a very happy occasion.
It is wonderful to be with so many colleagues from the State Department from across our government – both here, online, in Washington, around the world.
On my first day in this job, I committed to build a State Department that is ready to meet the tests of the 21st century and to deliver on the global issues that matter most to the lives and livelihoods of our fellow citizens. Since then, we have taken a number of significant steps to modernize the department, so that we can better tackle the climate crisis, cybersecurity, digital policy, critical and emerging technologies. And that’s why, as another critical part of our modernization agenda, we’re here together today to launch the Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy.
We all know from the COVID-19 pandemic what a profound threat a public health emergency poses to every aspect of our lives. It took the lives of millions of people, upended those of hundreds of millions more, devastated communities and economies around the world. Indeed, the last few years have made evident that a pandemic is not only a health crisis. It’s a security crisis; it’s an economic crisis; it’s a humanitarian crisis.
We have an imperative to do everything that we can to prevent another pandemic. And when the next health threat emerges – and it’s not a question of “when” – or it’s not a question of “if” – excuse me – it’s a question of “when” – we have to be ready. And the world at large has to be ready.
That is a central mission of the new bureau – to leverage the full power and purpose of American diplomacy to bring the world together to prevent – and if that doesn’t work – to prepare for and respond to the next health disaster. We’re setting up a new bureau to focus fully on the need to drive both internal and international coordination and accelerate the State Department’s ongoing efforts to strengthen global health security, so that the world can respond with immediacy and intention when the next health crisis emerges. And that’s where diplomacy comes in.
Today’s launch reflects the vision and the hard work of so many people in this room and a lot of people outside of it, and just to name a few of them.
First, congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, longtime champions of our health diplomacy, especially Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Risch, Senators Coons and Graham, Chairman McCaul, Chairman Diaz-Balart, Ranking Member Meeks, Ranking Member Lee. We are grateful for their engagement, for their leadership, for their partnership on this.
Here in the department, Deputy Secretary of State Verma, former deputies Wendy Sherman, Brian McKeon, so many from across the department, who – as a team – guided the creation of this bureau from idea to implementation. And I’ve got to say, by Washington standards – we were just talking about this – warp speed. (Laughter.)
Secretary Becerra, Administrator Power – two great friends and colleagues – the invaluable work of the Department of Health and Human Services and USAID to promote the health and wellbeing of Americans and of people around the world, and a close partnership throughout with the State Department. We couldn’t be more grateful for that and for your presence here today.
This bureau – while new – builds on decades of leadership on global health by the State Department.
We’ve worked alongside our colleagues – from USAID, from HHS, from the CDC – and through our embassies and consulates to protect people against and to work to eradicate diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, cholera. Those efforts over the years have literally saved millions of lives.
We’ve led on responding to international outbreaks, working with countries around the world to combat the 2009 swine flu pandemic, to counter the largest Ebola outbreak in history in 2014, and to slow the spread of Zika in 2015.
And last year, we mobilized a global coalition of 32 countries, the European Union, the African Union, the World Health Organization – along with civil society and the private sector – to help lead the world out of the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, the United States has donated over 688 million vaccines – safe and effective vaccines, free of charge, no strings attached – in partnership with COVAX and others to 117 countries around the world.
And then, of course, there’s the work of the United States and all of us here in terms of the transformational foreign assistance initiative, PEPFAR.
This program – created by President Bush in his administration, sustained through four administrations, through ten Congresses, and drawing on every part of the United States Government – has directly saved more than 25 million lives, and also set up the health infrastructure that has been vital for combatting not only HIV/AIDS, but also Ebola, the avian flu, and COVID-19. That includes surveillance systems to help track outbreaks, laboratories to run diagnostic tests, supply chains to transport medicine, healthcare workers to administer those medicines.
We’re focused on reaching the United Nations’ goal of ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic by the year 2030. I know the congressional leaders who are with us and who are engaged in this effort, all of us today, share that goal, and I look forward to working with our colleagues in Congress in the days ahead to secure a clean, five-year reauthorization for the program before it ends in September.
With PEPFAR continuing its work as part of this bureau, we will be very well positioned to apply its many lessons – as well as those learned from countering other infectious diseases over the years – to deliver on our other global health priorities.
Our investment in global health has shown the good that the United States can do globally, while safeguarding the well-being of our own people. It embodies the very best of American innovation, scientific excellence, capacity to work in partnership with other nations in service of shared goals.
This bureau is especially well-poised to succeed because we happen to have one of the brightest, most experienced minds in global public health leading the way. Ambassador Nkengasong has three decades of experience countering HIV/AIDS – in the lab at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the Africa CDC, and over the past year here at the State Department.
He’s devoted a lifetime to strengthening global health security. He understands the importance of American diplomacy in rallying the world around this urgent issue. And that’s why we’ve asked him to head up the new bureau, even as he continues his service as our Global AIDS Coordinator.
Overall, the Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy has three main functions, and let me very quickly go through them.
First, to lead the United States’ diplomacy in strengthening the global health security architecture so that the world is better prepared to prevent, to detect, to control, to respond to infectious diseases. That includes by working with partners to modernize existing organizations, like the World Health Organizations, so that they’re more fit for purpose, and by shaping new structures, like The Pandemic Fund.
Second, to help leverage U.S. foreign assistance to strengthen public health systems – including labs and supply chains for vital medical countermeasures – so that we’re better able to address current and future health threats alongside our national, regional, and multilateral partners.
And third, to elevate health security as a core U.S. foreign policy priority, through both our diplomatic engagements around the world and through our role in health security policymaking across the United States Government.
The Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy will lead the department’s work on these priorities – while also supporting other offices in the building that work on related, but distinct, public health issues.
Strengthening global health security is, and will continue to be, a priority for the Department of State. With this bureau, we’ll be better positioned to share information across the building, trade lessons learned with partners, and ultimately, ultimately, drive action and forge a safer, more secure future for our fellow citizens and for people around the world.
So that, in a nutshell, is why this is such a good day and an important day. To see this idea turn into reality, to see everyone in this room and joining us online who has been a part of this effort, and now to be able to launch what, for me, is a truly exciting initiative for the future of this department and for the future of our interests – that makes it a good day.
And I really want to thank all of you for your partnership that brought us to this day but also for the partnership that’s going to be so necessary in the days ahead to make this work, to make this a reality that actually has an impact. I can’t think of a more important endeavor, at a more critical time.
And with that, it is my great pleasure to welcome the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power. Sam. (Applause).
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Secretary Blinken. It is so great to be here on such a historic day for the department and for the United States. We see, too often, how the lessons learned during periods of crisis have a way of fading and receding from memory as the emergency itself fades. But your leadership, Mr. Secretary, is helping us harness those lessons to make us all safer. You are institutionalizing the lessons of one of the great tragedies of modern history.
And of course I want to thank Ambassador Nkengasong. There could not be a better person to head up this new bureau. Thanks in part to your steadfast leadership, PEPFAR not only remains perhaps the single greatest public health achievement in history – as the Secretary said, having saved an astonishing 25 million lives – but it has also offered the world a truly vivid testament to America’s compassion and America’s capacity for innovation and impact. This country’s ability to work with partners around the world, to do hard things, to achieve big results – that is something PEPFAR has shown. And your whole career, Doctor, has been in service of doing big and hard things for communities around the world.
Today, we urgently need to continue this U.S. leadership to meet profound and growing global health security challenges. Here’s a sobering statistic. Research shows that, as risk factors from climate change, conflict, and globalization increase, the probability of pathogens emerging and spreading, the odds of living through a pandemic of similar severity to COVID during our lifetimes are nearly 40 percent – 40 percent – if, that is, we do not work with our partners across the world to strengthen our collective efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to emerging threats.
These efforts are going to require diplomacy on a massive scale. To give a sense of the need here, the WHO and the World Bank estimate that the annual funding gap in pandemic preparedness is $10 billion – annually. This new bureau is going to play an absolutely vital role in coordinating with our partners to summon the global cooperation and the resource investments needed to keep us all safe.
The good news is we have seen how well investments in global health security in fact do work. Take the recent developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2018, Ebola hit the eastern part of the DRC, circulating for at least four months before it was detected. A reported 2,287 people died; that number was likely much higher.
But then starting in 2019, the DRC worked on strengthening its outbreak response capabilities – an effort we at USAID were thrilled to be able to support, alongside the State Department and the CDC. The CDC brought its world-renowned expertise on epidemiology and diagnostics. State led the diplomatic work negotiating at the highest levels of the Congolese Government, as well as providing the security and the tech resources that all the teams needed to be able to operate on the ground. USAID worked directly with communities to build trust, and we helped improve lab testing, surveillance, and reporting, and with the CDC distributed a lifesaving new Ebola vaccine.
Together, we partnered with community health workers to help them recognize disease warning signs and respond safely when new threats emerged.
Last year, Ebola hit the eastern DRC again. But this time, it didn’t take four months to detect the virus; it took 48 hours. Instead of thousands of casualties, there were five.
This new bureau is going to draw in partners around the world as we work together toward our collective security and well-being and help continue America’s legacy of global health leadership when the world needs it most.
Thank you so much.
And now let me turn it over to another extraordinary leader in the movement for healthier communities, Secretary Becerra. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BECERRA: Administrator Powers, first to you, thank you very much for the work that you continue to do – not just for the American people, but certainly to project what Americans wish to do for the rest of the world. Secretary Blinken, to you and all of your team, great thanks on behalf of not just the team at the Department of Health and Human Services, but from the American people for once again showing the world that America understands that its strength lies not just in what we do within our borders, but what we do around the world.
And I have the privilege of being the last speaker before you get to see the real guy who’s – (laughter) – the showstopper. But I wanted to simply stop for a moment. What was it that Lin Manuel Miranda said? The room where it happens? (Laughter.) Isn’t it great to be in the room where it happens?
To each and every one of you who are, day in, day out, in the room where it happens but no one knows, thank you for what you do. I know when I speak to my folks, whether it’s helping stop the spread of Ebola or trying to make sure that we get nearly 700 million COVID vaccine shots in the arms of Americans, you’re not going to be on the headline, but you were in the room where it happens. And I think Ambassador Nkengasong is going to definitely be in the room where it happens. And so it is great that we put our best foot forward.
What a difference a pandemic makes to get people across the globe to recognize that no one is safe until everyone is safe, to recognize that you could be rich but you can still die of some little bug you can never see. What a difference a pandemic makes to make us realize that we have to do this together, globally. Health transcends borders, economies, security; ways of life rise and fall based on health. And I am proud that we can say here in America we recognize that our economy, our security, our way of life is tied intrinsically to that of everyone else in the world. And so our technology, our expertise, our wisdom, our resources belong to them as much as they belong to us if we want to continue to thrive.
And I know, like you, I get asked the question often, about the U.S. – are we really back? Are we in this game? Are we serious? Are we here to stay? Because there is an anxiety, an apprehension, if we don’t.
And so I think the answer to that question is being given today. We are putting our best foot forward. At the Department of State, you will have someone leading in that effort to make sure that people understand that health transcends borders. And in placing someone like Ambassador Nkengasong at the helm, we’re sending a very clear message to the world that we understand that their economy, their security, their way of life – like ours – requires us to put our best at the front. And so as we let Ambassador Nkengasong be in the room where it happens, I simply say to him, as Lin Manuel Miranda said, don’t miss your shot. (Laughter.)
And so with that, I introduce to you your next leader at the Department of State on issues of health care, and a great partner for us at HHS and throughout the globe, Ambassador John Nkengasong. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR NKENGASONG: Good morning, all. What a tall order to be in the room. (Laughter.) Thank you.
I would like to start by thanking Secretary Blinken for giving me truly the privilege and honor to lead this new bureau, the Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy. Secretary Blinken, your vision for this bureau inspires all of us at the department. From day one – I remember stepping into your office on day one, and your priority number one was for this bureau to be established. So thank you for the honor and the privilege.
Let me also thank Secretary Becerra for your kind words, Ambassador Power, for your kind words and support and friendship over the years, for being here today to highlight the interagency collaboration that will ultimately make this bureau a success.
The creation of this bureau comes in the wake of one of the most devastating pandemics in the world’s history. I can only think of 1918, during the Spanish flu. This pandemic we all know has claimed more than 200 – more than 20 million lives, including over 1 million here at home. The U.S. economy has lost trillions of dollars, and even more so across the world. As Secretary Blinken noted, COVID-19 highlighted the imperatives for a coordinated USG response to stop health security threats.
We have learned many lessons about pandemics through the 20 years we’ve worked closely as part of PEPFAR. And PEPFAR has been, without doubt, the U.S. Government’s most successful global health program, saving, as others have said, 25 million lives. This was only possible through the whole-of-government approach. That’s a big lesson we’ve all learned from PEPFAR.
Therefore, launching this bureau comes at a critical point, because, as others have said, we recognize that the frequency of the health threats are increased because of the greater connectivity, globalization, climate change, population growth, food insecurity, and many others. So the lessons we’ve learned from the HIV pandemic, especially through PEPFAR, will apply dearly as we set up this bureau.
HIV/AIDS remains a persistent threat, both at home and abroad. About 40 million people have died since the HIV/AIDS pandemic was first recognized in 1981 – 40 million. And the UNAIDS, just a few weeks ago, released new data, showing that last year alone 1.2 million new cases of HIV infections occurred globally and about 600,000 deaths from that deadly disease.
Antimicrobial resistance continue to kill millions of people, and if nothing is done by the year 2050, about 10 million deaths will occur annually, comparable to deaths resulting from cancer.
Saving lives and preventing the spread of disease require the concept of four Cs. We must cooperate, coordinate, collaborate, and communicate at global level, regional level, and at national level. The Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy is ready to bring the full force of the U.S. diplomacy and the Department of State to fill this role; that is, to advance the concept of the four Cs. Secretary Blinken outlined in the vision the mission of what this bureau will do, so I will not repeat that, but rather I will highlight some priority areas that will advance the bureau’s mission in the near term, in accordance with the mission statement.
So first, we will have to ensure that the COVID-19 response efforts are sustainably integrated into the routine health security structures that we are jointly, all of us, trying to advance.
Second, we will help support the strengthening of capacities at both national and regional levels for outbreak response and to foster the development of the whole-of-government health security action plans.
Thirdly, we will work with multilateral and regional partners to strengthen the global health security architecture to ensure greater capacity, coordination, and accountability. This includes our leadership role in pandemic fund, work to amend the international health regulations with others, and successfully negotiating the pandemic accord.
Fourthly, we will ensure that health diplomacy is part of the DNA of the State Department’s workforce. Our bureau will work with State Department staff, other agencies and departments’ staff across the world, to ensure our institution – that we institutionalize health diplomacy.
And lastly, PEPFAR must succeed in our mission to control HIV in key priority countries or our partners’ countries. We will focus on the goal of ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by the year 2030. In that spirit, I truly look forward to working with all of you to achieve a clean five-years PEPFAR reauthorization, as Secretary Blinken has highlighted.
As part of this enduring commitment – that is, to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat – let me today announced the launch of a new initiative that PEPFAR wants to put forward, which is called the Safe Birth and Healthy Babies, a new PEPFAR initiative that have worked on – that will work on the collaboration with Senator William Cassidy and a group of bipartisan members of House and Senate. The Safe Birth and Healthy Babies will bring HIV-positive women – who do not feel sick but might be – what they need most. That is – it is comprehensive, reliable maternal care.
On the back of PEPFAR-supported HIV testing and treatment programs, this initiative would deliver clinical interventions to address the major drivers of – for delay in care and major causes of maternal mortality. With Safe Birth and Healthy Babies, we can expect a day when the vertical transmission of HIV from mothers to babies will be eliminated, and the 130,000 children who are born HIV – born from – of HIV every year will be healthy.
The bureau will ensure PEPFAR’s work is elevated and coordinated even more closely with broader health security priorities while continuing to retain our laser focus on the core PEPFAR functions. I look forward to working with all of you to strengthen global health security and advance the fight against HIV/AIDS. We need you, our international partners, now more than ever before, to fulfill the promise of the new Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy. Thank you. (Applause.)