Ambassador Ayalde’s Remarks at Global Health Security of the Americas Conference

Ambassador Liliana Ayala's Opening Remarks at Global Health Security of the Americas Conference

Playa Bonita, Veracruz, Panama. March 26, 2019. Good morning ladies and gentlemen.  On behalf of USSOUTHCOM Commander Admiral Craig Faller, I would like to welcome you to the 2019 Global Health Security of the Americas Conference.

I would also like to thank the Government of Panama for agreeing to co-sponsor this critically important forum, and our partners at the defense threat-reduction agency for helping with the planning and execution of this conference.

The Western Hemisphere—our neighborhood—is rich in diversity. Many different cultures, languages, and terrains.  But one challenge that affects every country, both big and small, is natural disasters.

These come in many forms: hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, wildfires, and volcanos.

These kinds of disasters are the ones most often mentioned by disaster response personnel, or in the media.

However, biological threats like pandemics are often overlooked, until some crisis grabs the world’s attention.

Biological threats are pervasive and ever changing.

In 2016, the World Health Organization announced the Americas to be the first region of the world to eradicate measles.  Yet in 2017, measles had returned to Venezuela, raising concerns over its potential spread through migration flows.

Venezuela’s case shows how a man-made humanitarian crisis can quickly turn a small outbreak into a public health emergency of international concern.

Modern travel, mass migration, natural disasters and lack of access to care are fertile grounds for the spread of infectious diseases.

Diseases do not recognize borders or discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or social class.  They are truly a ‘trans regional and complex’ threat that can have many cascading impacts, across many different countries.

During this week, our goal is to provide a forum to exchange information, develop relationships, collaborate, coordinate, and hone our collective skills.

I urge you to take this opportunity to meet everyone and build your personal network of contacts.

Share ideas about how we can collectively tackle potential infectious disease outbreaks in our region.

There is much more to be done, and this is an enormous responsibility.  I am confident it is in great hands, and wish you all a productive conference.