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Remarks at the Global Health Security Agenda

Thank you. Good morning to all of you, and thank you for taking your time and investing your time in this effort, that I know we all believe is critically important.  And I also want to add my welcome to each of you.  And also to thank your nations’ commitments to this effort because it does connect to our global security, a more peaceful world for all people, a better world, a world that gives us all more hope, more possibilities, more opportunities.

As Secretary of Defense, I especially want to recognize the senior defense and security officials here…because you have critical roles to play in supporting global health security.  Last week’s United Nations Security Council session on Ebola reinforced that message.       

The leaders here today represent over 4 billion people, or more than 60% of the world’s population.  You all represent what we can accomplish together… if we marshal our leadership, our resources, and our commitment to global health security. 

As Ambassador Rice and Secretary Burwell have noted already this morning, scientific, economic, and demographic trends are magnifying the risks of outbreaks of infectious disease, whether they begin with an accident, terrorism, or nature.  Such events threaten not only the health of our citizens, but also geopolitical stability.  When states are unable to provide basic services for their citizens, dangerous regional and global security consequences result. 

The risks posed by outbreaks of infectious disease are not new, we know that, but in our interconnected world, they are intensifying.  To prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks, we must work across all the sectors of all our governments, and our all of our across nations, in a concerted global effort.              

While the U.S. Department of Defense has the responsibility of protecting the health and readiness of its armed forces, we are also prepared to help respond to outbreaks of infectious disease that may threaten the stability of nations…and regions. 

Today, DoD is supporting USAID and other U.S. government agencies as part of an ongoing global effort to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa. 

As President Obama announced last week, through Operation United Assistance, the Department of Defense is deploying U.S. troops, as well as our unique capabilities including command and control, logistics, engineering, and training support.  Our Cooperative Threat Reduction Program is providing unique resources and expertise to enhance detection and surveillance. 

These assets will help enable civilian responders to contain Ebola’s spread, and mitigate its economic, social, and political fallout.  They will support the efforts of partner nations, and multilateral and non-governmental organizations.  And they will help leave behind stronger health care systems and infrastructures. 

To achieve these objectives – as Ambassador Rice noted earlier– DoD is establishing a command center in Liberia that will support civilian efforts.  We are creating an “air bridge” and an intermediate staging base in Senegal to help transport personnel and supplies into West Africa.  We are standing up a field hospital and treatment units, and will be training thousands of health workers.   Two mobile laboratories, staffed by Ebola experts, are now arriving in Liberia.

As President Obama said at yesterday’s UN special session on Ebola, our command center is up and running now, and our teams are working as fast as they can to move in personnel, equipment, and supplies.   

Because DoD maintains a longstanding research program to defend our troops against infectious diseases, including Ebola, we have been able to provide critical diagnostic tools.  We are also accelerating the manufacturing of potential treatments, and starting clinical trials for a vaccine candidate.  On Wednesday, we received approval to begin safety testing for one vaccine candidate, which will be conducted here at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. 

As we continue to develop new opportunities to help build a stronger global health care infrastructure, we must also ensure that collaboration across and within our governments is more agile and responsive the next time we face a crisis. 

Whether we sit in defense ministries or health ministries, we all have a common interest in helping all nations – helping each other - prevent and contain outbreaks – to support the development of health systems and infrastructures that Secretary Burwell described a few minutes ago. 

That is why DoD will continue its ongoing work to support today’s agenda – we strongly support today’s agenda and are part of that effort – building health security and capacity around the world. 

Working with the State Department, USAID, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Cooperative Threat Reduction program is supporting capacity-building initiatives with 30 countries.  For example, in the nation of Georgia, which I visited earlier this month, DoD worked with other U.S. agencies to help establish the new Lugar Center.  The Lugar Center a state-of-the-art laboratory that will serve as a node for cooperation with regional and global health authorities.  Other DoD programs help ensure that laboratories around the world with dangerous pathogens are safe and secure. 

Last year, DoD also developed a unique partnership with the U.S. CDC to strengthen health security capacity in Vietnam, as has been noted this morning, and in Uganda.   This year, we expanded this initiative to 10 more countries.

As you all know, our health security agenda is ambitious. 

But I’m hopeful because today the international community has unprecedented capacity to prevent and halt the spread of infectious disease.   

I’m hopeful because of the strong leadership gathered here today…because of past triumphs achieved by coalitions like this one in eradicating deadly disease…and because of the dedication of the extraordinary men and women all around the world – from all nations - who have volunteered to help treat, heal, and care for the victims of the crisis in West Africa today.  

I look forward – my colleagues at DOD look forward - to working with all of you, and your countries, and your organizations, as we continue strengthening the health care systems and security of all nations around the world, and all of our citizens. 

Thank you all very much for what you do and for your countries’ commitments.