August 25, 2019
Secretary Azar Participates in Closing Ceremony for USNS Comfort in Santa Marta, Colombia
Today, August 25, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar participated in a closing ceremony for the USNS Comfort in Santa Marta, Colombia with Rear Admiral Steven D. Poulin, SOUTHCOM Director of Operations; Mark Wells, Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia; Dr. Juan Pablo Uribe, Colombian Minister of Health; Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Colombian Foreign Minister; and General Luis Fernando Navarro Jiménez of the Colombian Navy.
On the USNS Comfort’s journey throughout the Americas, the United States government is working with health and government partners in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean to provide care on the ship and at land-based medical sites. The USNS Comfort crew and volunteers provide basic medical, surgical, dental, and optometry services, as well as veterinary services. This is necessary not only because many forcibly displaced Venezuelan refugees are in desperate need of medical attention, but also because many nations’ medical systems have been strained by the arrival of these refugees.
Secretary Azar stressed in his remarks the importance of the USNS Comfort’s mission for President Trump and Vice President Pence as the United States government continues to work with the government and people of Colombia in their effort to meet the medical needs of both Colombians and Venezuelans. The United States has committed over $256 million dollars to helping our partners in Latin America provide humanitarian and development assistance to this vulnerable population. In Colombia, the United States has committed approximately $130 million dollars to the response. Secretary Azar also stated, “We can all eagerly look forward to the day when we turn our attention to helping Venezuelans rebuild their healthcare system and their country.”
After the ceremony, Secretary Azar and Minister Uribe signed a letter of intent to formalize an agreement that the United States, through PEPFAR, will provide additional support to Colombia in the form of a supply of antiretroviral treatment to help provide HIV/AIDS treatment to care for Venezuelans at Colombian public health facilities.
Later in the day, Secretary Azar, other senior HHS officials, and Mark Wells, Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia participated in a bilateral meeting with Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia; Dr. Juan Pablo Uribe, Colombian Minister of Health; Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Colombian Foreign Minister; Fabio Espitia Garzón, Attorney General of Colombia; and Iván Darío González, the Colombian Deputy Minister of Health. During the meeting they discussed the continued Venezuelan crisis and the United States and Colombia’s strong bilateral relationship. Colombia expressed thanks to the United States for the continued collaboration on public health, specifically for the technical assistance through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Secretary Azar’s participation in the closing ceremony and bilateral meeting followed a tour earlier in the day of the USNS Comfort and medical sites in Colombia where the Secretary spoke with and had the opportunity to thank the crew of the USNS Comfort, including members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, who are providing critical medical services to those in need. Additional information regarding Secretary Azar’s meetings and schedule will be forthcoming in news releases and social media posts.