U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma’s Introductory Remarks for Dr. Tom Frieden, Director, Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

(As prepared for delivery)

Welcome to the American Center, the hub of the Embassy’s public engagement efforts in New Delhi.  The American Center is the home of the American Center Library – one of the busiest American libraries in the world, with around 300 visitors every day.  The American Center also plays host to numerous events that help to foster understanding and promote linkages between American and Indian communities, including film festivals, speaker series, and art exhibits.

Tonight we are honored to have in our audience many distinguished public health leaders from across India representing the government sector, the private healthcare sector, the World Health Organization, and many non-government organizations, who are all striving to keep India safe and healthy.

 I am in awe of your daily efforts in public health.  Whether it be working to reduce the burden of HIV/AIDS, sustaining polio eradication in India through vaccine campaigns and surveillance, developing new testing kits to diagnose an emerging infectious disease such as MERS, fighting malnutrition in the far-off villages of India, investigating outbreaks related to animal or human disease, or testing vaccines that could ward off the next pandemic–your efforts may go unnoticed on a daily basis yet they would turn to crises if you were not diligent in your daily work.

I personally thank you for taking time away from your busy schedules to support the talk the US Embassy is sponsoring this evening in honor of Dr. Tom Frieden’s visit to India. Tonight Dr. Frieden is going to present on a very timely and relevant topic that is going to help define the evolving public health collaborations between the US and India.

Although Ebola has left the headlines of the major newspapers around the world, Ebola is still a public health concern as cases in West Africa continue to emerge. According to the World Health Organization, there have been over 11,000 deaths from the Ebola outbreak that began in West Africa in 2014. CDC, and Dr Frieden in particular, has been a significant and effective leader in the Ebola response. CDC personnel are currently deployed to West Africa to assist with response efforts, including surveillance, contact tracing, data management, laboratory testing, and health education. Thousands of CDC staff, including six CDC staff from US Embassy-New Delhi, haveprovided logistics, staffing, communication, analytics, management, and other support functions for the response –alongside the World Health Organization and other international partners in West Africa.  Although today Ebola is still a concern in West Africa, we realize we are never far from the next pandemic.  Due to this reality, the Global Health Security Agenda, which was developed before the Ebola outbreak, is now more timely and important than ever before.

The Global Health Security Agenda is the perfect tool for facilitating preparedness, as it is a collaborative effort by nations, international organizations, and civil society to accelerate progress toward a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats; to promote global health security as an international priority; and to spur progress toward full implementation of the World Health Organization International Health Regulations 2005, the World Organization for Animal Health Performance of Veterinary Services pathway, and other relevant global health security frameworks.

The importance of global health security is clear to me, despite not having a public health background.  New microbes are emerging and spreading, drug resistance is rising, and laboratories around the world could intentionally or unintentionally release dangerous microbes.  Globalization of travel and trade increase the chance and speed of these risks spreading. We must work together to strengthen surveillance to detect emerging diseases, respond to outbreaks, and prevent future pandemics.  Through our work together, both nations will benefit as we learn from one another.

I am personally very pleased with the efforts of the CDC here in India as they have worked with many of you to develop proposals targeting the various areas of the Global Health Security Agenda.

 Dr. Kayla Laserson, the CDC-India Director, has shared information with me regarding the collaborations with both NCDC and AIIMS to fight anti-microbial resistance as it is a global public health threat we all have to work hard to address. And multiple USG Agencies including USAID, HHS, NIH, and CDC are collaborating with India on other facets of global health security such as preventing the spread of multi-drug resistant TB. These are among the many opportunities we have to work together, learn from each other and use the “lessons learned” to benefit both of our countries and the region.

There is a lot of work for all of us to do to make the world a safer, healthier place and I feel that with our nations working together we can support one another and reach the goal of controlling and preventing disease.

Now, I would like to introduce our honored guest and speaker this evening, Dr. Tom Frieden.  Dr. Frieden really needs no introduction as many of you have known him many years.  However, I would like to point out a few accomplishments. Dr. Tom Frieden is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has the responsibility for our nation’s health protection agency.  Since 2009, Dr. Frieden has intensified CDC’s 24/7 work to protect people from health threats – preventing foodborne and healthcare-associated infections, helping Americans quit smoking, combating anti-microbial resistance, and extending life-saving treatment and disease prevention in more than 50 countries.

As New York City Health Commissioner  from 2002-2009, Dr. Frieden helped reduce smoking, eliminate artificial trans fats from restaurants, eliminate colon cancer screening disparities, and initiate the country’s largest community-based electronic health records project.  Many of you know Dr. Frieden from his five years in India, when he helped to re-build the tuberculosis control program that has saved three million lives. Dr. Frieden started his CDC career as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, the very same program CDC and the National Centre for Disease Control together have started here in India, and has written more than 200 scientific publications.

Without further ado, I would invite Dr. Frieden to the podium.