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In Zambia, US Treasury Chief Reiterates US Commitment to Global Health

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Zambia to highlight joint efforts to improve global health and meet with President Hakainde Hichilema.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at the launch of the Zambia National Public Health Institute offices in Lusaka, Jan. 23, 2023.

A day after her arrival in the country, Yellen inaugurated the newly built, U.S.-funded Zambia National Public Health Institute. The institute was established to help Zambia prevent transmission of deadly diseases like COVID-19, monitor threats to public health and effectively respond to any outbreaks.

Yellen said health security has been a key pillar of the partnership between Zambia and the U.S. over the past two decades.

It’s important to sustainably finance public health institutions, she said, as the cost of preparedness is lower than the cost of responding to an outbreak once it starts.

Yellen said the U.S. remains committed to improving regional and global health security through its $450 million contribution to the newly launched Pandemic Fund.

“Let me say how much we value our partnership; how important it is for the individual efforts and Africa as a whole and [the] global health situation,” she said. “We have had a long partnership, and I think it’s been a productive one. It’s important for it to continue.”

Earlier on Monday, Yellen visited Mylan Laboratory‘s distribution center in Lusaka.

Mylan Laboratory is a U.S. firm that employs 75 workers in Zambia, helping to distribute antimalarial and antiretroviral treatments.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen cuts the ribbon at the launch of the Zambia National Public Health Institute offices in Lusaka, Jan. 23, 2023.

While Yellen visited the facilities Monday, Africa Centers for Disease Control Director Ahmed Ogwell Ouma put out a live virtual message to the visiting secretary, commending the U.S. government for its massive investment in global health.

Ouma emphasized the need for the local manufacturing of drugs to deal with health challenges in Africa.

“Local production is very key to the health security of the continent and by extension, for the whole globe,” he said. “And investing in well-selected manufacturing facilities for different health products from diagnostics, therapeutics to vaccines is really, really important for the way in which we are going to be handling outbreaks and, God forbid, another pandemic.”

Yellen also expressed confidence that Zambia’s debt-restructuring process will be concluded soon, adding that this is in the interest of creditors as well, as Zambia faces a delay in the process.

This follows the International Monetary Fund’s approval of a $1.3 billion bailout last August, aimed at kickstarting the country’s ailing economy and restructuring its debt.

Zambia’s total public debt to foreign and local lenders was just shy of $27 billion at the end of June 2022, according to its Ministry of Finance.

Zambia’s foreign debt is spread across diverse regions, with $6 billion owed to China and the rest owed to various banks, nations and multilateral institutions.

Meanwhile, Yellen also said she is happy with the Zambian president ‘s efforts to address corruption.

While in Zambia, she will hold bilateral talks with Hichilema and his ministers, as well as business leaders and civil society.

During her trip, Yellen is highlighting the Biden administration‘s efforts to deepen U.S.-Africa economic ties, including steps to expand trade and investment for sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

This follows the United States-Africa Leaders Summit held last month in Washington, where President Joe Biden announced over $15 billion in two-way trade and investment commitments.

Yellen will remain in Zambia until Tuesday, when she leaves for South Africa.

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