Official visit to Ethiopia: Conference at ALERT Hospital
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to address the second joint Ethiopian-Norwegian Conference on Health, Science and Higher Education.
Health is a topic that concerns us all – no matter where we are, where we live our lives. Our own health and the health of our loved ones is the foundation for our well-being and happiness.
Ensuring healthy lives and well-being for people at all ages is vital if a society is to prosper. It is essential if children are to grow up, if women are to give birth safely and if the population as a whole is to be protected against preventable diseases.
To achieve this, we need a good health care system that is accessible to everyone. Healthy people are the basis for healthy economies. Building a good health-care system is, as you know, expensive. But the lack of a good system is – in the long run – even more expensive.
The health sector has been a key area in developing the ties between our two countries.
The first Norwegians to live in Ethiopia were in fact missionaries. They worked hard and with great dedication to improve health services in southern Ethiopia. Many of our joint projects in the health sector would not have existed without their efforts.
Over the years, Norwegian institutions have followed up this work, and they are now playing a key role by providing technical assistance and enhancing the training of Ethiopia’s future doctors and nurses.
It is inspiring to see so much expertise and experience gathered in one room: Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel from various Ethiopian and Norwegian hospitals. Professors, other academic staff and graduate students from several of the most prominent Ethiopian and Norwegian universities are present here today.
I am particularly happy and honored to share the floor today with one of the pioneers in international health - and if I may say so, one of my personal heroes – Dr Tore Godal, who started his medical career in Ethiopia, right here at the Armauer Hansen Research Institute.
We can all look forward to his presentation afterwards.
The cooperation we are celebrating today is reinforced by the international community’s broader cooperation on global health. There is a clear gap in global health security when it comes to developing vaccines for populations in need, and closing this gap is a high priority for Norway. Norway has - as the minister mentioned - supported multilateral health initiatives such as GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.
In order to further strengthen our efforts to promote this agenda, Norway is investing in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations – CEPI.
We are pleased that Ethiopia has shown an interest in this initiative, and hope we can further develop this collaboration with a view to ensuring access to new life-saving vaccines that can be used to combat future epidemics – whether they occur here in Ethiopia, on the African continent or elsewhere in the world.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The task of providing high-quality health-care services to a population of around 100 million people is demanding. This major task is essentially in the hands of the Ethiopian Government. Norway and Norwegian institutions can, however, provide additional resources and skilled personnel to support Ethiopian efforts to build a robust and well-functioning health-care system.
As we speak, Norwegian oncologists are supervising Ethiopian colleagues at Black Lion Hospital in an effort to enhance the quality of cancer treatment nationwide. Part of this cooperation also includes support for a two-year Master’s programme in clinical oncology nursing at the University of Addis Ababa, supported by the Department of Nursing at Oslo and Akershus University College.
Norwegian universities are supporting research on health-related issues across Ethiopia. Long-running exchange programmes have allowed young Ethiopians to study at Norwegian universities, and to acquire the skills needed in their home country. These kinds of collaboration are examples of partnerships based on our common interest in promoting health services for all.
I am sure that the Norwegian partners present here can vouch for the fact that the partnerships between Ethiopia and Norway have been inspiring and rewarding for all those involved.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is of special significance to be with you here at ALERT and Armauar Hansen Research Institute (AHRI). This medical center was dedicated to leprosy. As we all know from biblical times, leprosy was stigmatized and people with leprosy were excluded from society. Leprosy is a strong reminder to us that when people are falling behind, it often is due to an active act of exclusion.
Over 15 years, I have been deeply involved with this issue regarding another disease, HIV, where we still, in spite of progress, have a considerable way to go.
But there is another important lesson for AHRI and ALERT: Research. Since its establishment in 1970, research at AHRI-ALERT has done break through research on disease processes in leprosy and helped developing better therapy, which changed from lifelong treatment to cure.
This dramatically changed the situation for patients:
They were deleted from leprosy registries, and new patients were not so afraid of coming forward.
We are not quite yet there with regard to HIV/Aids, we are still waiting for the cure and for the vaccine.
The Ebola outbreak was a new strong reminder of how devastating disease outbreaks can be to local communities and countries. Fortunately, the global community responded forcefully. And fortunately – through the establishment of CEPI – the global community is even better prepared to meet similar outbreaks in the future.
I keep wondering if the world could have prevented the HIV/AIDS epidemic if we had had a similar vigorous response and scientific knowledge a century ago when the first transmissions of aids most likely took place...
The cooperation we are celebrating today is vital. The sharing of experience – whether at the bed-side or in the laboratory – is not only of benefit to the peoples of Ethiopia and Norway. It is a strong example of our common commitment to better health for everyone.
The story of leprosy is an inspiring example of dedicated work to leave no one behind.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me end by thanking you all for your tireless efforts for such a noble cause.
I wish you all the best for today’s conference.
Thank you very much.