Blinken names two officials to lead U.S. response to Havana Syndrome cases

WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday named two new officials to coordinate Washington's response to so-called Havana Syndrome health incidents that have affected U.S. diplomats and officials overseas.

Blinken said Ambassador Jonathan Moore will serve as coordinator of the State Department's Health Incident Response Task Force and Ambassador Margaret Uyehara will lead a team supporting affected employees.

"This is an urgent priority for President Biden, for me, for our entire government," Blinken said in an address at the department, pledging to "get to the bottom of this" and take care of those affected in the meantime.

"These incidents have left our colleagues with profound harm. They've experienced serious physical consequences, including persistent headaches and hearing loss. They've also experienced psychological harm, including trauma, anxiety, depression," he said.

President Joe Biden's administration has faced criticism from sufferers and lawmakers for not taking seriously enough what officials call anomalous health incidents. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators wrote to Blinken on Oct. 14 urging him to quickly appoint a new coordinator for the response after the previous official resigned.

Around 200 U.S. diplomats, officials and family members overseas are believed to have been struck by the mysterious ailment - with symptoms including migraines, nausea, memory lapses and dizziness - which was first reported among U.S. officials in the Cuban capital in 2016.

In Colombia last month, Blinken met with members of the embassy community in Bogota who have been affected by the incidents.

The new coordinator, Moore, a career diplomat, called on U.S. diplomats who may have been affected to come forward and report symptoms.

"The task force and I believe and respect those who come forward in reporting incidents and will be relentless in our efforts to provide them the care that they need," he said.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis

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