Remarks by Ambassador Wright at Public Health Emergency Operations Center (PHEOC) Opening

Good Morning,

Minister of Health Mazuri,

Director General,

WHO Representative- Dr. Andemichael

Global Fund Representative- Mr. Nelson Msuya

Members of the press

And of course, our esteemed colleagues from the Zanzibar Public Health Emergency Operations Center.

I am so pleased to be able to join you today for the formal dedication of the Zanzibar EOC.

COVID-19 proved that a disease threat anywhere is a threat everywhere. As President Samia Suluhu Hassan said, “no country is an island.” We are all a part of a very interconnected world, and therefore at a risk for internal and external disease spread. The terrible toll of COVID-19 over the past year has made this abundantly clear. It has also made clear the importance of having a trained workforce and efficient structures and systems in place to rapidly detect and robustly respond to emerging threats. Today, we are here to celebrate the Zanzibar Public Health Emergency Operations Center –a hub and coordination center that is instrumental in helping to protect the health and wellbeing of the Zanzibari people– and the rest of the world.

Verification is key to determining whether a public health event is truly occurring. Through rapid information gathering, prompt verification, and timely dissemination of information, an EOC helps ensure Zanzibar is always prepared to respond to public health threats. The ZPHEOC serves an incidence management hub to coordinate all communications, monitoring, tracking and response operations for key diseases. I am proud that the USG, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC), helped establish the ZPHEOC two years ago by providing the incident management infrastructure, key equipment and software to ensure the EOC functions properly, and training for key staff through CDC’s flagship Public Health Emergency Management Fellowship. The success of the ZPHEOC is due in part to Dr. Haji’s leadership, expertise and commitment to the center.  Since starting operations, the ZPHEOC served as a hub in Emergency Preparedness as well as in the multisectoral response coordination. CDC & U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency have supported the training of field epidemiologist to supervise rapid response teams to effectively deploy wherever and whenever they are needed.

Thanks to the newly renovated structure that we are here today to dedicate, the ZPHEOC will be even more effective at carrying out its critical work, which has grown even more important as a result of COVID-19. Since the pandemic struck, the ZPHEOC has been crucial in providing coordination in resource mobilization, assessing risks and tracking capacities where people come in and out of the island. It has been crucial in monitoring diseases beyond COVID-19, and in prioritizing the wellbeing of Zanzibaris – and this includes keeping the island’s residents and visitors safe so business and tourism can exist.

COVID-19 showed us how fickle our “normalcy” is, and how much we all depend on each other – people both inside and outside of our borders – to enrich our lives and sustain our livelihood. It showed us how vulnerable we are to something we cannot even see – the invisible spread of infectious disease. With continuous investments from donors and the Zanzibari government, we can work to assure that disease are prevented, quickly identified and effectively taken care of. We now know how high the stakes are – and I am humbled to see that the ZPHEOC and the people behind it are prepared and enthusiastic for the challenge.

Controlling a pandemic means surveillance, detection, and stopping the spread of transmission. But it also means treating those infected with the best possible care. In that respect, I’m pleased today to announce that the U.S. government through USAID and CDC have identified more than $1.2 million to support the Zanzibar Ministry of Health’s outbreak response efforts. These funds build on critical health security investments provided by the US government in the last few years.

As these contributions demonstrate, there can be no doubt that the U.S. stands shoulder to shoulder with the Ministry, with health workers, and with the people of Zanzibar in the fight against COVID-19.

The recommendations released on Monday by President Samia’s special committee of health experts represent a bold step forward in this fight. The experts recommended increased data sharing, stronger mitigation measures, and making safe and scientifically proven vaccines available to all who want them, especially those in high-risk groups. They also recommended strengthening investigative capacity to better detect contagious disease outbreaks and lab services to expand testing ability, an effort that the ZPHEOC can play a leading role in. I believe these recommendations – if followed – would put Tanzania (both Zanzibar and the mainland) on the right path to defeating COVID-19. I hope President Samia will give them her deepest consideration.

In closing, I’d like to thank the Zanzibari Ministry of Health team for their enduring work to prevent, detect, and respond to public health threats. I value the partnership between the Government of Zanzibar, US Government, WHO and the Global Fund. I hope we are able to continue a fruitful collaboration to keep Zanzibar safe, healthy and prosperous.