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Remarks on the U.S.-Japan Relationship and Its Shared Goals on Global Health

Alex M. Azar II
U.S.-Japan Global Health Dialogue
September 28, 2018
Washington, D.C.

Today’s dialogue is vital because the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Japan has great importance not just for our own countries, but for the entire world … Our partnership provides the world with an outstanding example of the value of sustained global health cooperation.

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Minister Kato, for joining us here today, and thank you, everyone, for inviting me to address the beginning of today’s meeting.

It is great to be here to help open this dialogue. I have personally enjoyed a close working relationship with you, Minister Kato, most recently at the U.N. General Assembly this week.

Today’s dialogue is vital because the strategic relationship between the U.S. and Japan has great importance not just for our own countries, but for the entire world.

Japan is a key ally in the Indo-Pacific and a key ally globally.

Our countries share core values, like a respect for a rules-based order. We also have common domestic challenges, such as aging populations and the threat of antimicrobial resistance. Together, we face global threats such as pandemic influenza.

The United States has worked with Japan, and HHS with our Japanese counterparts, for more than 50 years of strong health partnership.

HHS is proud to host liaisons from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in both our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. This mutually beneficial program continues to be a key component of our bilateral health relationship.

Another example of our long partnership is the U.S.-Japan Cooperative Medical Sciences Program, now in its 52nd year.

This successful program is co-managed by our National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Japan’s Agency for Medical Research and Development. It funds research on infectious diseases of global concern, such as HIV/AIDS, cholera, TB, emerging diseases, and the underlying genetic environment that influences our response to disease.  Through this program, each year, we cohost the Emerging Infectious Diseases of the Pacific Rim scientific conference, which brings together technical experts from Japan, the U.S. and throughout Southeast Asia.

More broadly, in 2017, institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health collectively supported 274 grants, which include research collaborations with Japanese scientists on areas such as cancer, aging, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease. Our partnership provides the world with an outstanding example of the value of sustained global health cooperation.

Cooperation was really the underlying message of this week’s U.N. General Assembly, where we joined the High-Level Meeting on Tuberculosis and held key discussions on antimicrobial resistance and global health security. I want to address each of these issues and our shared interests with Japan on them in turn.

First, we were quite pleased to have the U.N. host the TB meeting. Too many have mistakenly consigned TB to history, but it continues to menace our allies and is resurgent in many countries. Even in the United States, where we had just 9,000 cases of TB in 2017, there are millions of citizens with latent TB who should receive treatment.

So it is vital that nations like the U.S. and Japan provide a model for fighting TB, promote innovations to diagnose and treat it, and support nations around the world in developing their own systems to defeat it.

One key challenge in fighting TB is growing antibiotic resistance, which is a concern across many infectious diseases.

The U.S. appreciates the close policy agreement on AMR between our countries, and the recognition by Japan that defeating it will take cooperation across countries and sectors.

In 2016, the United States was an observer at the Tokyo Meeting of Health Ministers on AMR, co-hosted by then-Minister of Health Shiozaki, and then-Minister of Agriculture Moriyama. The communique reached by 12 Asian nations was a major step forward for combating AMR in the region.

Then, this year, we were pleased to welcome a delegation from Japan to the March 2018 in-person meeting of the Trans-Atlantic Task Force for AMR held at the CDC in Atlanta.

We would welcome taking this cooperation to the next level by forming a Trans-Pacific AMR Task Force, and I hope that will be an area of discussion in the near future.

The final major issue I want to discuss today is our shared commitment to global health security, an area of critical domestic and global importance.

Biological threats like infectious disease rise to the level of a national security priority.  The U.S. National Security Strategy, released last December, specifically identifies combating biological threats and pandemics as a cornerstone of national security. Earlier this month, we launched our first National Biodefense Strategy, which recognizes the need to work both domestically and internationally to address biological threats.

As our Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Dr. Robert Kadlec, will outline later today in more depth, a key objective of our Biodefense Strategy is strengthening global health security capacities to prevent local outbreaks from becoming pandemics.

The U.S. and Japan share the same ocean, the same regional security concerns, and many of the same key goals on global health. Japan, too, recognizes the importance of preparing for threats domestically and internationally.

For instance, Japan and the U.K. have partnered with us and the WHO’s Global Action Plan for Influenza Vaccines to improve pandemic preparedness by strategically increasing local and regional vaccine manufacturing capacity in 11 countries.

We are grateful for Japan’s continued strong support on global health security efforts, including Japan’s support during their G7 Presidency of that group’s global health security commitments, and Japan’s robust engagement in the Global Health Security Agenda, or GHSA.

Countries present at last year’s Ministerial meeting in Uganda, including the United States, supported extension of GHSA to 2024. The GHSA Steering Group has been developing the framework for this next phase through a consultative process with all GHSA countries and partners.

As part of the Steering Group, the U.S. appreciates Japan’s engagement in this process. The GHSA accomplishments have been significant already: Eighty-two countries, including the United States and Japan, have already conducted joint external evaluations.

But we have to go beyond evaluation. The next steps are national action plans for health security, as the U.S. is currently developing, and sustainable financing, so that countries have the ability to implement their national action plans over the long term.

We believe all of these actions together—JEEs, national action plans and sustainable financing—are important in catalyzing the next major advances in global preparedness efforts.

GHSA is only one mechanism of many multilateral efforts to address health security and preparedness issues around the world.

Infectious disease issues and global health security must be at the front of the agenda for multilateral institutions like WHO, and that is a belief we share with Japan.

We have also pushed the financing of global health security as a priority for consideration in both the G7 and G20. We look forward to discussing this topic at next week’s G20 Ministerial Meeting, and we hope that Japan will continue this priority during their 2019 G20 presidency.

I want to conclude by noting what an honor it has been to open this dialogue and to pay tribute to our close partnership with Japan.

We are proud to share commitments on so many important goals, and a shared sense of the key priorities that should define our global health work.

I speak not just for myself, but for all of HHS and the U.S. government, when I say I am looking forward to continuing and deepening our bilateral collaboration.

So, to that end, I wish you all a successful dialogue today. Thank you very much for having me.

Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on September 28, 2018