First Lady's MEDEA 2010 Opening Message - Feb 1st, 2011

Opening remarks by the Conference Chair

Dear Secretary, Minister, vice-Ministers, Deputies, representatives from the governmental and non-governmental sector, lobbyists, health care managers, medical staff, media representatives and all those following us through live streaming on internet.

It is a great pleasure to greet you on this side of the Atlantic and in the capacity of your chairperson, who will try to do her best and lead you through two days of structured discussions, working groups and parallel sessions giving shape and structure to our common efforts to improve health care in Georgia, in particular focussed on Human Resources, Health Financing & Investment. You will be hearing about gaps in service provision, medical education, challenges in health system strengthening and insurance and about opportunities of investment in today's Georgian Health Care sector.

I am saying "TODAY'S" as Georgia is rapidly catching up with international health care standards and regulations and is -as we speak- building state-of-the-art premises, geographically well distributed over our territory (which fits exactly three times in the State of Kansas!). We are proud -and standing head and shoulders above our neighbouring states- that we can be innovative, progressive and modern. To give you just a few examples in which I am personally involved: we provide breast, cervical, prostate and colon cancer screening to our population, palliative care in hospices as well as at home, we offer prenatal diagnostics like amniocentesis in case of at risk pregnancies, we remind mothers by text messages about their toddler's vaccinations, we offer harm reduction programs like methadone substitution programs to drug addicts in both civilian and penitentiary system, we are proud to have universal access for multi-drug resistance tuberculosis and HIV anti-retro virus treatment.

Today, after the break, during which I will be signing my book in English for those interested, we will be splitting up in four subgroups: Health Financing, Human Resources, Health System Strengthening and Investing in the Georgian Health Care sector.

Tomorrow morning is dedicated to getting an overview of the issues through reports of today's discussions. The afternoon will be filled by a panel of international experts followed by a panel of Georgian experts who will try to come up with concrete initiatives on how we continue to strengthen, coordinate and monitor the efforts of all those who are willing to contribute in one way or another to Georgian Health Care development. A lot of these coordinated approaches have been prepared in the months leading to our today's conference, some still need to be concretised and fine-tuned before we can speak of a coordinated and sustainable approach.

Of course it goes without saying that since Georgia's independence, in May that will be 20 years (!), the USA has been extremely committed to Georgia's development through USAID, academic institutions all represented here today and through other bi- and multilateral channels and internationally operating non-governmental organisations. So we do definitely not start from scratch, the groundwork is there, two decades of experience and also a real Georgian health experts' community on site of which many are present today. Their zeal and patriotism will strengthen the bonds in health care development between our two countries even more. Later on, the Ministry and myself will be handing over certificates to them. Also NIH has agreed to a cooperation agreement and met with our Ministry just yesterday in preparation of the conference.

In the past, it has been very confusing and discouraging seeing individual donor projects overlapping with each other or not getting beyond their pilot phase. There are so many possibilities of financial, material or know-how assistance in both governmental, non-governmental and commercial sectors to explore. By coordinating, grouping, complementing these types of aid we can get much further than where we are now,we can pop up the scale and impact of overall US assistance and US investment.

Our MoH is doing a fine job encouraging health care sector investors to participate in a smooth transition exercise by inviting them on a regular basis around the table to discuss infrastructural issues like waste management, water supply and other practical yet decisive issues to guarantee safe and sustainable health facilities that respond to modern standards and will be closely monitored in the near future.

Let us continue to be creative and innovative.

Let us find out how to get eligible for certain financial schemes and grant, but also how we can shift Georgia's foreign debt into development projects (like Germany is considering for 4 million EURO within the Global Fund's Debt Swap Initiative), and let us convince US corporations to increase their social responsibility and invest in sustainable health care. This is something the initiators of this conference do strongly believe in. Together we stand strong and can guarantee structural development in such a complicated sector as health care. Complicated and always prone to change and getting reformed. In the US too, Health care reform is on everybody's lips. as well. The classical radio station of the Washington area to which I have been listening these days, mentions these reforms several times a day.

I speak out the hope that this conference will have a successful outcome, that we will organize a similar forum in Europe in a year from now and that we can come back together in the States in 2013, summing up the Action Plan of 2011-2012 and updating the Roadmap for 2011-2020.

Last but not least, speaking of Europe, this Spring, in Copenhagen, I will officially be granted the GOOD WILL Ambassador's title by WHO Europe with a focus on the Millenium Development Goals. The birth rate in Georgia is increasing, abortion rate is decreasing, maternal and child mortality is decreasing and HIV and TB infection rates are more or less under control.

From my speech you have already understood that I focus on mother and child health care as well as on infectious diseases, but it is an honor for me to lobby for the health-related MDG's on a pan-European scale and share Georgia's best practices. So become a part of Georgia's development and success, your efforts will be rewarded !

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