Remarks by Amb. Sullivan at the International Panel Physician Association Training Summit

Ambassador Sullivan at the opening ceremony of the International Panel Physician Association Training Summit

Akwaaba! It is my pleasure to welcome you to Accra, as Ghana is the host for this year’s International Panel Physicians Association Training Summit.

Thank you to my colleagues, the High Commissioners from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, for joining the United States in supporting this summit. As members of the Migration 5 Working Group, these five countries work tirelessly in managing our respective screening programs.

The United States admits approximately 20,000 refugees and 50,000 immigrants from Africa annually, each requiring a robust physical and mental evaluation.  At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Medical Assessment and Policy Team manages the U.S. Panel Physician Program.

We have more than 700 physicians worldwide. Each year, CDC alone visits at least 25 countries, performing site visits for the specific purpose of maintaining this screening program.     With such a vast global reach, we are grateful for the partnerships developed to help create opportunities for the panel physicians. This includes the International Panel Physicians Association, which provides support and consultation for these training summits, as well as other in-person training and educational activities for panel physicians. Since 2010, the training summits have grown in both numbers and achievements.

Having focused the majority of my career in Africa or on African Affairs, it’s nice to be back on the continent and see how key programs, such as the U.S. Panel Physician Program, have evolved. The work you all do to support the visa, immigration, and refugee processes is crucial to ensuring national security and preventing the spread of public health threats. Because, while human migration is not new, the number of persons living outside of their country of origin has reached record levels.

Combined, panel physicians for the Migration 5 Working Group examine about two million people per year. By doing these exams, you come to know the applicants’ stories. People migrate for different reasons. One of the most common reasons is to seek greater economic opportunities. Indeed, each of our countries is dependent on the steady flow of new people, who bring new energy and fresh perspectives. Immigrants’ contributions to their new home countries are too numerous to count.

Indeed, one cannot separate the economic and industrial achievements of the United States from the contributions of immigrants.  Another large group consists of those compelled to move due to conflict, while many leave their home countries in the name of family reunification. In the many debates governments have about migration, health is frequently at the forefront of discussions. A well-managed medical examination process for people moving from one country to another serves many purposes.

I’ve seen this firsthand in my work in many African countries.  When you, the panel physicians, are doing a great job, the whole system benefits, as do the patients themselves. For economic migrants, businesses and employers benefit knowing their employees have undergone a health examination before travel and have had infectious diseases such as TB addressed prior to their arrival.

TB is of particular importance, since it is currently the deadliest infectious disease in the world. When foreign-born persons, in any country, have TB, this leads to concern, media attention, or even fear among the rest of the population. This is especially important in the case of refugees. An effective panel physician program can ease anxiety within communities that receive refugees and help prevent potential stigma, laying important groundwork to ease people’s transition to life in their new countries.

From a health systems perspective, receiving countries save a sizable amount of money by having TB treated overseas before newcomers arrive. For the United States, 1,191 immigrants and refugees received a tuberculosis diagnosis overseas in 2017. Treatment overseas allowed a cost savings of $20 million dollars, an amount that can now be used for other important public health purposes.

Leading up to this week’s Training Summit, I’ve learned from CDC how you, in your role as panel physicians, are also working to support local TB efforts globally.  I’ve learned that our own panel physician in Accra, Dr. Oddoye, has a great relationship with Ghana’s National Tuberculosis Program.  By the way, Dr. Oddoye, I must give you a shout-out, for taking excellent care of our young son 20 years ago when he was admitted overnight at your clinic. Thank you!

I’ve heard about similar efforts of panel physicians teaming up against TB around the world.  I commend all of you for looking for ways to share best practices and have your special, hard-earned expertise benefit people the world over. After all, it’s all about the people, right?

To conclude, I am confident the training and networking you will experience this week here in Ghana will provide you with additional professional development opportunities to better serve the public.  Thank you for inviting me to be with you this morning,and I wish you all a successful training summit!