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Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D. - PAHO

This text contains Dr. von Eschenbach's prepared remarks. It should be used with the understanding that some material may have been added or deleted during actual delivery.

Speech before
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

Remarks by
Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D.

Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs

September 25, 2006


Muchas gracias, Madame President Munoz, Dr. Mirta Roses (PAHO Director), Dr. Joxel Garcia (PAHO Deputy Director), Mr. Michael Leavitt (Secretary of Health), Dr. Jose Miguel Insulza (OAS Secretary General) and Dr. Anders Nordstrom (WHO Director General). Congratulations to you and all the members of the Pan American Health Organization for your many, many important accomplishments. It is a great honor for me to be here this morning, honorable ministers and colleagues, to address you. I come to thank you for those great accomplishments, but also to discuss together the great responsibility and opportunity that is before us as you begin your very important work in this conference. May we achieve success in the great responsibility and opportunity that is before us.

We come together as leaders from many different countries and parts of the world, speaking many different languages, and faced with many different challenges. In many places there are meetings such as this where world leaders come together to discuss their differences and to struggle to understand what divides us, and how to deal with the violence and hate that comes from that division. We struggle to find answers as to how to deal with the suffering and death that results from our differences. We struggle as leaders to find that one quest that could unite us and make us one world.

Sometime ago, one such leader offered that the single most important event—the single most profound and important thing that would unite us to create one world—would be to discover life on another planet. Life on another planet would unite us in a common quest as earthlings to face that common threat. It would be us against them.

Perhaps that is a very cynical commentary on human nature, but there is a core of truth in the fact that an enemy of all humankind would compel us to put our differences aside and join as one world in one quest.

But, my friends, we do not have to look to another planet to encounter the enemy of all humankind. That enemy is right here among us and within us. That enemy is disease.

Disease: acute and chronic with names like cancer, AIDS, Alzheimers, malaria, and avian influenza. Disease that cares nothing for its human victims and that is unfair and unjust. Disease that is indiscriminate and inexplicable as it causes suffering and death. Disease that spares no human life, young or old, man or woman, and that cares nothing about our geographic borders. And there is no part of the world that is safe.

Disease has always defined our identity as being the same, as being human beings. Disease has made us one world and it now defines our one quest: the quest to eradicate and prevent disease.

As ministers of health and as heads of health agencies, we have been given the responsibility for this quest and it must bond and bind us together in meetings such as this, not to define our differences, but to recognize and share our strengths.

We have the opportunity to come together, not only to realize what we must do, but also to realize how we can do it. To realize that we are at a very special moment in time when we have extraordinary opportunity. We can prevent and eradicate our common enemy of disease, because today human knowledge is enriched by modern science and technology, and this has made possible a new hope for humankind.

We have new hope because for the first time we are able to begin to understand disease, to understand the genetic and molecular mechanisms that are responsible for disease, and that understanding, that discovery is rapidly leading to the development of new interventions that can prevent, detect, eliminate, or modulate disease so that people no longer must inevitably suffer and die. Science and technology have given us tools to solve problems that only a decade ago seemed impossible to conquer.

Only a decade ago, as a cancer specialist, I participated in a meeting such as this at the International Union Against Cancer, where leaders from around the world, and especially those from Central and South America, were struggling to determine if acetic acid or vinegar could be used to detect early cancer of the cervix, because women were dying and suffering, and it was not economically or medically feasible to develop and disseminate a widespread program of PAP smears. And even if that could be done, there was no way to provide adequate treatment. But because of science and technology, we defined the cause of this disease as DNA damage due to infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), and this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine for HPV that has the potential to eradicate this horrible disease from the face of the earth.

One hundred years ago when the FDA in this country began, science and technology's quest was to understand the fundamental nature of matter and energy and that progress transformed civilization. Today as we gather, science and technology's quest has been to understand the fundamental nature of life and disease, and we now have the potential to once again transform civilization and we now have established the proof of principle that hope is real for a new future in health and healthcare.

Today we come together as members of a health organization, with the opportunity to build a bridge between all that promise of science and technology and the delivery of interventions that can eradicate disease. Together we can build that bridge. We can build a bridge that links discovery and development of new drugs and biologics and medicine with their delivery to all people. We can build a bridge to assure that our food is not only safe but also nutritious and a source of calories for assuring and promoting health, especially among our children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is committed to join with you to build that bridge for benefit all of humankind.

The FDA this year celebrates 100 years of experience that we will share to work with you in our common quest. We will continue to promote trilateral initiatives with Mexico and Canada to address security and prosperity programs in areas of border inspection and anti-counterfeiting. We will continue to foster PAHO in supporting the coordinated Pan American Network on Drug Regulatory Harmonization (PANDRAH) program for training in drug regulation, especially focusing on good manufacturing practices. We will continue to contribute to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to be able to develop anti-retrovirals for AIDS, especially in PEPFAR II for Guyana and Haiti. Along with our partner, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), we will focus on good agricultural practices to provide training programs in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

The FDA has set strategic objectives and goals for globalization and communications so that we can work together to solve our mutual problems. This year, Health Canada and the World Health Organization, together with the FDA, sponsored a meeting of regulators to address the ability to eliminate barriers to the development and dissemination of vaccines that will become available for avian influenza. And, I will have the privilege of hosting my peer Commissioners and heads of regulatory organizations around the world, so that we can address harmonization in drug regulation.

Disease recognizes no borders. FDA will reach across borders to join hands with you in our common quest to conquer disease.

All in this room are involved in politics and policy. Many in this room are also physicians. And we have been privileged—privileged to hold in our hands new life as it drew its first breath at birth; privileged to hold the hand of another human being as they drew their last breath at death. As ministers and leaders of health, all of us hold the lives of humankind in our hands. We know the value of life and the need to protect and promote the health of that life, and as the world searches for what will unite us, we must lead that one quest to promote and protect health. In the world of policy and politics, six of the eight millennium goals of the United Nations are focused on protecting and promoting health.

As leaders of world health, we not only hold those lives in our hands, we hold the solution in our hands. We have the tools of science and technology that can transform healthcare. We can come together to share and to apply those tools to create a healthy world, to create a united world—one world, one quest!

The people of the United States, our President George W. Bush, our Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt, and all the members of our Food and Drug Administration are honored to join you in that one quest to create that one world—that one healthy world.

Muchas gracias!