By Kylie Atwood, CNN
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met privately with US officials who were affected by Havana syndrome during his visit Thursday to the US Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, according to a senior State Department official.
“He heard their experiences and reiterated that the issue and their care is an absolute priority for him. He deeply appreciated the opportunity to meet with them,” the official said.
People affected by Havana Syndrome have reported a varying set of symptoms and physical sensations, including sudden vertigo, nausea, headaches and head pressure, sometimes accompanied by a “piercing directional noise.” Some have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries and continue to suffer from debilitating headaches and other health issues years later.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed legislation into law to provide support to victims of the Havana syndrome to “ensure we are doing our utmost to provide for U.S. Government personnel who have experienced anomalous health incidents.” The President said that addressing the global incidents was a top priority for his administration.
Blinken’s visit to Colombia comes after CNN and other news outlets reported earlier this month that US officials, and their family members, in Colombia were experiencing symptoms of the mysterious illness in recent weeks.
The secretary of state’s visit also comes one week after a bipartisan group of senators called on him to appoint a new senior official to lead the State Department’s efforts to address the ongoing anomalous health incidents, saying the incidents reflect “a significant, unmitigated threat to our national security.”
Blinken also addressed the reported incidents when he met with the entire embassy community during his visit separate from the meeting with those impacted.
He “made clear that he has no higher priority than the health and safety of the workforce and emphasized that the Department is determined to get to the bottom of AHIs, provide care to those affected, and protect our colleagues around the world,” the official said.
Although Blinken met with some of the US officials who came down with the mysterious illness in Washington earlier this year, this is the first known time that he has met with those impacted while traveling abroad. Blinken has previously been criticized by US diplomats for a tepid response to the incidents.
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CNN’s Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.