07/13/16 – Deputy Secretary’s Remarks at Public-Private Sector Roundtable Discussion on Zika

department of state

Heather Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources
Washington, DC
July 13, 2016

DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Thank you, Jim, very much. And I also want to echo your thanks to your team, to you, to OES, the interagency, and all of our partners for arranging this forum today, and importantly, to all of you for being here. I’m especially pleased that we’re joined this morning by Amy Pope, who is leading the Zika response at the White House, and that she’s going to share her thoughts and perspectives with us shortly.

As everyone in this room is aware, Zika is a growing public health emergency. It’s growing in our hemisphere and beyond. And we’ve already begun to see the impact with tens of thousands of confirmed cases and hundreds of thousands more suspected in the Americas. We’ve seen the heartbreaking images of children born with microcephaly. We’re aware of the rare cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome that can affect people of any age. And we know that mosquitos and diseases cross borders. So we’re here today because we know that we all are part of the solution.

The U.S. Government has identified its core goals: inform and protect women who are or may become pregnant and their sexual partners on how to avoid the disease; control the mosquitos carrying it; develop reliable diagnostics and treatments; and provide the public with information on how to prevent Zika transmission.

Since the WHO declared Zika and associated microcephaly a public health emergency of international concern back in February, we’ve made good progress in protecting people here and around the world. We’ve worked with others across the U.S. Government to develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent, detect, and respond to Zika. And we’ve acted quickly to provide as much funding as we can while urgently asking Congress to address still largely unmet needs.

Here at the State Department, we are focused on coordination, communication, and building the right team. We coordinate with foreign governments and organizations to get response strategies in place and to help them address legal and regulatory hurdles. We communicate essential information every day to Americans abroad, and we translate and provide cultural context for foreign publics who trust us to cut through the clutter. But perhaps most important is our third role as convener, building a team of people like you and the businesses and organizations that you represent.

Our extensive networks and relationships around the world give our department a unique ability to bring key players together just like we’re doing here today. We’ve seen from previous crises that the best way to address a situation of this magnitude is to marshal the resources of everyone to help. So today’s event will help us apply the lessons learned from the responses to international public health emergencies, including Ebola, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.

The first lesson learned is the importance of partnerships. Public-private partnerships have been essential to the whole-of-society response to malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. But partnerships have to be done right and we have to identify needed companies, community organizations, funders, and governmental partners to ensure that we’re each playing the right role and that we’re working from the best possible plan.

Perhaps nobody understands and executes this better than Nothing But Nets, and that’s why we’re so happy to have them here today. With help from partners like the U.S. Government and the NBA, Nothing But Nets has in just a decade delivered nearly 10 million bed nets to protect families in sub-Saharan Africa, a critical, critical part of transforming the once distant dream of ending malaria deaths in the region into a realistic possibility.

Another very important lesson from previous responses is the need for strong communication among the organizations represented in this room and across our government. So after we leave here today, how do we best let each other know where and when we need support? How do you share what you’re learning about demand for products, the best ways to disseminate information, and the challenges you may face as an American company or organization operating overseas?

Today’s sessions are an opportunity for us to have these open conversations and further strengthen our relationships knowing that none of us can solve this challenge alone. You’re part of the strategy to protect the people we all serve, whether we relate to them as constituents, employees, patients, customers, or potential visitors. Your expertise is critical to produce effective diagnostics, vaccines, and treatment as quickly as possible.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about this emergency, but as we assemble more pieces of the puzzle, the remaining gaps become clear. We know that a whole-of-society response is necessary and that working together multiplies our impact.

So throughout the session today, I hope that you’ll keep an important question in mind: Who in this room can I work with to change the course of Zika?

So thank you very much for being here and being a part of this conversation and continuing our efforts to work together to address this emergency. Thank you. (Applause.)