Prevention and Early Detection: Indispensable to Patient Care

Remarks to the Embassy-ACCJ Joint Seminar on Healthcare
By Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer
U.S. Embassy Tokyo
March 5, 2008

(As prepared for delivery)

Members of the Diet, distinguished guests from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, healthcare institutions and the private sector, ladies and gentlemen:

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the American Embassy today to participate in a very important discussion on "prevention and early detection" in healthcare. For many years the Embassy has worked closely with ACCJ, our leading American business partner in Japan. Today's seminar is the latest in a long series of joint efforts to address topics of interest not only to business but also to the general community.

Benjamin Franklin, a very famous American who was also our first diplomat once said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." He could have been talking about the value of prevention and early detection in healthcare. Earlier detection of diseases can lead to more effective treatment and enable people to live longer and healthier lives.

For any government, a strong prevention and early detection regime not only contributes to a healthier population as a whole, it also delivers considerable savings to strained healthcare budgets. Simply put, it is cheaper to prevent disease than to treat it after it has ravaged the body. As a result, in my judgment, preventative healthcare should be considered an investment as a capital asset, not an operating expense. Let me explain why.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that at least one third of all cancer cases are preventable. The WHO has also said that 80 percent of premature deaths from heart attacks and strokes are preventable. Prevention offers the most cost-effective and long-term strategy for the control of cancer and other diseases.

Japan, as the second largest economy in the world, has healthcare challenges similar to those in the U.S. We both have aging populations, lifestyle issues, such as smoking, eating and exercise habits, and are both working to improve early screening for diabetes, breast, colorectal and other cancers, among other diseases.

In the U.S., we have been working at the federal, state and local levels to create innovative public and private partnerships to develop, implement and evaluate community-based programs for cancer prevention and early detection. We are promoting the public's understanding of cancer prevention and early detection by focusing on healthy lifestyles. The public needs to know that early screening to prevent or lessen the effects of lifestyle related diseases makes a huge difference. Our government health research institutions are working closely with our private sector companies to identify and promote new technologies and new solutions to these health challenges.

Today's seminar will cover a range of topics from cancers to cardiovascular and infectious diseases and will address effective measures that can be taken at the government, healthcare provider, and individual levels. Solutions provided through early diagnostic tools, targeted therapies, information management, education and lifestyle changes will be examined along with institutional best practices using these tools. We have also included U.S. and Japanese companies in this forum since they are ready, willing and able to find answers to the most difficult health questions we face. Private sector companies are an integral part of the solution because they are in the position to work with healthcare institutions to research, develop and commercialize new technologies and procedures that are so essential to resolving our mutual healthcare dilemmas.

No one country or society has the answers to all these issues and it is through forums, like the one we are attending today, that new ideas and effective responses to these issues can be explored. I hope all the participants will feel free to explore every option and to consider every application of the new and exciting technologies and strategies that can prevent the pain and suffering caused by disease. Good luck and thank you for being here.