For Immediate Release
April 26, 2016
Ambassador Joseph W. Westphal’s Remarks
C3 Saudi-American Healthcare Forum
Opening Ceremony Program
April 26, 2016, Ritz Carlton, Riyadh
Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, friends, colleagues, it’s wonderful to join you this afternoon to explore ways we can work together to improve patient care in Saudi Arabia through innovation in healthcare. Thank you especially to C3 International for gathering us together in the spirit of collaboration.
At its core, healthcare is about taking care of each other. We layer upon that core objective numerous tools – administrative systems, high-tech medical equipment, pharmaceutical and biologic treatments, insurance schemes, and training for our doctors and nurses. The most important contribution we can make today is to find new ways to take care of each other – to ease pain and suffering, extend the time we have to spend with loved ones, and make our lives and our children’s lives as comfortable, productive, and enjoyable as we possibly can – in other words, to improve our standards of patient care. To reach the highest standards of patient care we must strive to improve those tools by sharing research and best practices, and by constantly innovating.
For example, over the past few years, governments around the globe have learned an important lesson about the critical need to share information about infectious disease threats. From the emergence of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, to the latest Zika crisis concentrated in the Western Hemisphere, no nation is immune to the threat of infectious diseases. Therefore, to accelerate our collective preparedness, our surveillance and detection capabilities, and our response times to these threats, the U.S. government, the Saudi government, and many other governments around the world have developed the “Global Health Security Agenda.”
For the United States, and for President Obama, the Global Health Security Agenda is an imperative foreign policy objective. When President Obama met with King Salman and heads of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations last week to discuss security issues, they recognized that
health security is a fundamental pillar of a stable region. When large populations are forced to flee their homes due to political conflict, the potential for the spread of infectious disease escalates due both to the volume of refugees moving across international boundaries, and the strain it causes to the health system and infrastructure. So, how do we build a global health network that enables us to recognize and rapidly respond to these threats?
First, we connect our people. Human interaction is the cornerstone of innovation. When our top scientists meet face to face and test the boundaries of our understanding and assumptions, we discover new solutions that we could never have reached in isolation. That is why I was delighted to be with His Excellency Dr. al-Omar last year for the signing of an agreement between King Saud University and U.S.-based Sabin Vaccine Institute for technical exchange to develop new vaccines. This agreement, which supports person-to-person training and collaboration between Sabin and KSU, has created a bridge that expands the universe of possibilities to fight disease.
Next, after people, we focus on systematic data and process exchange. Just as our national governments, our military and police organizations, and our banking and commercial systems must talk to each other to facilitate global travel and trade – our health systems must also speak the same language. For example, the Saudi Ministry of Health and National Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a deep and robust partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We share information on outbreak surveillance, infection control, R&D and clinical trials, biosecurity threats, and medical curriculum design. Our respective food and drug regulatory authorities are exploring more ways to share health safety information related to our food supplies and to ensure that the safest, most effective medicines are available for consumers in their local markets. While it may not always make headlines, you can rest assured that our bilateral healthcare relationship is strong and our two health systems continue to harmonize data, methodologies, tools, and practices.
Finally, and crucially, we trade equipment and resources in the international marketplace. As many of you know, this year’s C3 Saudi-American Healthcare forum coincides with the U.S. Healthcare Technology and Health Services Trade Mission to the Kingdom. We are fortunate to have 19 of the world’s leading commercial medical providers with us here this week. There are hospital administrators, integrated healthcare providers, medical device manufacturers, health IT companies, pediatric hospitals, and education institutes from all corners of the United States visiting the Kingdom as a direct response to the Saudi Government’s call for more private sector involvement in the operational side of Saudi Arabia’s evolving healthcare system.
Your Excellency, Minister al-Falih, you speak often about your goal to increase private sector participation in delivering healthcare services in the Kingdom. I offer you some of our best and brightest – they are ready to deliver products and services and to create partnerships with Saudi public and private entities. Representing a wide range of diverse communities and approaches to public health in the United States, these companies are ideal partners who can help you achieve your objective of strengthening the Saudi healthcare system. They have experience with primary care, which I understand you would like to expand; the deployment of electronic medical records; and many different insurance programs. Perhaps even more valuable, they offer solutions that are developed on the back of literally billions of R&D investment dollars. By partnering with U.S. companies, you can reap the benefit of their experience, knowledge, and technologies to support your efforts to develop local Saudi talent, expand the capacity of the Saudi healthcare system, and deliver quality medical care to the Saudi population.
When King Salman visited the United States in September last year, we initiated a New U.S.-Saudi Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century. Healthcare presents one of the most logical and opportune sectors to put our partnership to work. I know that the Saudi Arabian government is looking for ways to build domestic R&D and manufacturing capacity to ensure an adequate supply of jobs for its citizens, especially the growing ranks of young Saudi graduates. I applaud that goal as an important tool of economic diversification and prosperity. And I stand ready, together with the leaders of the American private healthcare industry, to support the achievement of your goals. At the end of the day, we are here to collaborate, to innovate, and to take care of each other.