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Hanoi Medical University

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Hanoi, Vietnam
June 17, 2013

One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to visit with people around the world.  And everywhere I go, I see two big trends when it comes to health.  It doesn’t matter what continent I’m on; it doesn’t matter how large or wealthy a country is—these trends can be found anywhere.

The first trend is a growing recognition that better health serves as a stepping stone for every other goal our nations want to achieve.  Whatever progress we seek—whether it’s in education or economic opportunity or the status of women—better health helps move us forward.

This is a principle we see at work in our own lives.  When we’re in good health, everything becomes easier—we’re free to learn, work, and pursue our dreams.  But when our health suffers, it becomes much harder to reach our goals. 

And that’s just as true for nations as it is for individuals.  When we invest in improving health and health security, it opens the door to progress in every area of national life.

The second trend is an understanding that achieving better health requires us to work together internationally. 

We live in an age when threats can spread faster and more unpredictably than ever before.  People are traveling more between and within countries.  Food and medical product supply chains stretch across the globe.  In the U.S. today, nearly half of our fruit and more than three quarters of our seafood comes from other nations.

At the same time, there is a growing realization that our biggest health challenges—from reducing tobacco use to containing health care costs—are not unique to our respective nations.  They are challenges that all countries face.  And our best chance to tackle them is by working together.

These two trends have fostered a growing spirit of cooperation that I’ve seen firsthand in my travels.  When discussing trade or foreign policy, there are often areas of strong disagreement.  But when the conversation turns to tackling our biggest health challenges, there is an understanding that nations can and must work together. 

It’s striking, for example, that when the World Health Organization proposed the International Health Regulations, all 194 member states signed on.  That’s a remarkable demonstration of unity—and it’s a testament to the growing consensus that national health and global health cannot be separated.

Vietnam has been a leader in building international partnerships to improve health security.  And I am especially proud of the way our two countries have worked together in this area.

Since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations eighteen years ago, our countries have achieved a level of mutual respect, cooperation, and friendship that for a long time seemed unimaginable. 

And that relationship has translated into important progress in several areas related to health.  We in the U.S. have supported your efforts to strengthen the Vietnamese health system, especially in areas like expanding access to health services for HIV and TB-infected patients and those most at risk for HIV.  And we have also worked together to address the threat of infectious diseases.

This is another area where Vietnam has been—and will continue to be—an important leader.

Ten years ago, when the emergence of SARS threatened the world, Vietnam stood as a bulwark against the spread of the disease in Southeast Asia.  And your nation has been a model of responsiveness ever since, whether combating H5N1 or other public health emergencies. 

You helped keep those diseases from spreading between countries—and in doing so, you spread your example to nations that had not always been as open about reporting and responding to health threats.  We’re seeing the positive consequences of that example today, as we work openly with China to prevent further spread of H7N9.

Yet we also know that much more remains to be done.  Though every country in the world has signed on to the goals of the International Health Regulations, eighty percent of nations have fallen short of achieving them fully.  We need to keep working to close this gap—and as Vietnam makes progress of its own, it can also serve as a leader in the region.

That’s why the US is committed to helping Vietnam further strengthen its health security systems through the partnership between our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as CDC, and the Vietnamese Ministry of Health.

By this fall, we hope to make progress in three priority areas.

First, we will help strengthen the real-time information platforms that determine how quickly Vietnam can respond to public health emergencies.  Improving communication between medical centers across the country will provide a huge advantage when it comes to rapid response.  And CDC will support this effort by providing tools to help detect and monitor diseases, map outbreaks, and improve reporting using mobile technologies. 

Second, we will help support an enhanced nationwide laboratory system.  Together, we’ll work to improve areas like biosafety, specimen handling, quality assurance, and communication between laboratories and clinical systems.  Our shared goal is to strengthen laboratories so that potentially lethal pathogens can be identified within a week of a patient first seeking treatment.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, we will help strengthen a public health Emergency Operations Center within the Ministry.  This center will help bring Vietnam into compliance with the International Health Regulations by putting in place proven communication and planning systems.  And CDC stands ready to assist Vietnam by sharing advice, helping train staff, and providing necessary, state-of-the-art equipment. 

These steps will help build on the significant progress Vietnam has made in the past 10 years since SARS.  Strong data collection will help alert the Ministry of Health to potential problems.  Strong laboratories will help accurately identify threats.  A strong emergency operations center will help plan and execute appropriate responses.  The result will be better health security not only for Vietnam, but for Southeast Asia and the entire world.

As we work to advance those important priorities, we’ll be building on the remarkable work that has already been done by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health.

We know this work is critical.  New strains of influenza, drug-resistant illnesses, and other diseases such as the novel MERS coronavirus will continue to threaten all of our borders.  But we also know that the trends that have created new global threats have also created the opportunity for us to forge new global solutions.

Seizing that opportunity means accelerating our efforts.  To give just one example, progress has been made in training epidemiologists here in Vietnam and in other countries around the world—but that training isn’t moving quickly enough.  In fact, at the current rate, we’re on track to meet the goal of having one trained epidemiologist per 200,000 people 130 years from now.  The world can’t afford to wait that long.

Over the next few years, all nations must step up their efforts to achieve our shared goals.  We must ramp up training everywhere.  We must build health infrastructure and technological capacity everywhere.  We must encourage more transparency and better communication everywhere.  We must all commit to strengthening health security on the community level, to increasing access to health care, and to improving the health of vulnerable populations who are most susceptible to global pandemics.

In this room are many students.  You are the future leaders who will soon be responsible for the health of the world.  It’s a big responsibility.  But it’s also an enormous opportunity.  You can help create a future in which Vietnam continues to grow into a world leader in protecting the health of its own people and all the people of the world.  And as you create that future, you can count on America to be a partner every step of the way.

Thank you.