WASHINGTON (RushPRNews)January 7, 2009 -HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Joxel GarcÃa and HHS Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., are in Costa Rica today to mark the opening of an HHS/FDA office to serve Latin America, which completes another step in the Presidentâ€™s Action Plan on Import Safety.
The countries of Latin America are key trade partners for the United States, and the HHS/FDA presence in the region will allow the countries to work closely together. The office in Costa Rica is the first in a series in the Region, which will eventually include an HHS/FDA presence in South America and MÃ©xico later in 2009.
â€œThe countries of Central America, along with PanamÃ¡ and the Dominican Republic, create the third-largest U.S. export market in Latin America, and, every year, the United States imports millions of dollars in goods from these important trade partners,â€ Secretary Leavitt said. â€œAn HHS/FDA presence in the region will improve collaboration, strengthen our partnership and hasten the flow of quality goods to our markets.â€
Work on the office opening began in June 2008, when Secretary Leavitt and Health Ministers from the countries of Central America and PanamÃ¡ gathered at a summit in El Salvador to map out a broad framework for cooperation on food and product safety. Another outcome of that summit will be a Memorandum of Understanding, which the countries have been working on; the document has received widespread approval and is expected to be signed within the coming weeks.
The ceremony in Costa Rica follows the opening of an HHS/FDA office in Brussels to spearhead regulatory collaboration on food, drugs and medical devices with the European Commission; the introduction of three HHS/FDA offices in China, in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou; and the announcement the department will open HHS/FDA offices in two cities in India. HHS/FDA is also pursuing options to open a location in the Middle East.
Part of the â€œBeyond Our Borders Initiative,â€ the opening of the HHS/FDA office in Costa Rica is the next step in fulfilling the vision and strategy of the President’s Action Plan on Import Safety and the HHS/FDA Food-Protection Plan, both launched in November of 2007.
The goal of the HHS/FDA â€œBeyond Our Borders Initiativeâ€ is to foster collaboration with regulatory authorities around the world, as well as to forge partnerships with industry on the safety of food, animal feed, drugs and medical devices. These efforts will increase the safety of products for consumers in the United States and around the world.
Secretary Leavitt and Admiral GarcÃa will travel from Costa Rica to PanamÃ¡ City, PanamÃ¡, to announce an expanded curriculum for the Regional Health-Care Training Center (RHCTC) there. The RHCTC will begin capacity-building in the regulation of food, drugs and medical devices in 2009, and will also offer training in oral and dental health to professionals from around the region. The center was founded when HHS established a cooperative agreement with the Gorgas Memorial Institute on Health Studies in PanamÃ¡.
The center provides training to enhance the knowledge and skills of community health workers and clinicians from Central and South America. During Fiscal Years 2007 and 2008, more than 500 students from all six Central American countries received training on influenza preparedness and response. When the students returned to their communities, they trained others, which exponentially expands the reach of the RHCTC. Experts from U.S. academic centers, HHS, the U.S. Department of Defense Southern Command, and Central American countries have served as faculty.
For more information about the U.S. Governmentâ€™s efforts to ensure the safety of products imported into the United States, including the Cabinet-level Working Group on Import Safety chaired by Secretary Leavitt visit: http://www.importsafety.gov.
Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.
Contact: HHS Press Office
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Â· 200 Independence Avenue, S.W. Â· Washington, D.C. 20201
(Photo by Sonia M. Mey-PAHO/WHO)