Athenaeum Intercontinental Hotel
Tuesday, September 15, 2020, 12:30 p.m.
Καλημέρα. Deputy Minister Rapti, Minister Kikilias, who will be with us virtually before too long, colleagues, and friends: I am very happy to be back at this year’s HealthWorld Conference, and I’m glad that the global pandemic did not prevent us from meeting again this year, even in this altered format. I want to particularly thank Niko, Elias, and all of our partners at AmCham for organizing this conference in strict conformance with the government’s health and safety guidelines.
I’ve said it many times before, but I want to start this morning by congratulating the Greek government for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of us at the American Embassy here in Greece feel so grateful to have been here, and we have nothing but admiration for the way that Prime Minister Mitsotakis and his team have managed this global challenge.
Before the first COVID-19 confirmed case in Greece, the government had established a plan of action and designated COVID-19 reference hospitals with extra beds and intensive care units. Before the first death in Greece, the government had cancelled the carnival events and suspended schools.
These early health and safety measures, made in coordination and with the advice of scientists and medical experts, saved lives and flattened the curve, preventing Greece’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed.
I want to give special thanks to my friend Minister Kikilias and the whole team at the Ministry of Health, and especially to all of the dedicated health professionals – the nurses, the doctors, orderlies, ambulance drivers, and all the rest – at hospitals and health facilities across Greece who have cared for patients, including some of my own friends here in this country, under the most difficult of circumstances.
I know that many of the American companies in the room today have been working around the clock to bolster Greece’s healthcare system, participate in COVID-19 research and treatment, and strengthen Greece’s response. Ευχαριστώ πολύ.
I was also deeply impressed over these months to see how Greek society pulled together through the crisis. Embracing Prime Minister Mitsotakis’s conviction about the importance of human life, the Greek people demonstrated compassion and resilience as they closed their businesses, respected lockdown measures, sought advice from medical experts, and organized the delivery of groceries and supplies to elderly and quarantined neighbors.
Meanwhile, in one of the great silver linings of the past several months, Minister Pierrakakis and his team at the Ministry of Digital Governance launched an unprecedented, innovative, and successful drive to digitize government processes, such as making it possible for citizens to get prescriptions delivered to their mobile phones. These digital tools enabled citizens to complete more important transactions from the safety of their homes, setting a strong foundation for Greece’s ongoing digital transformation.
The global health crisis has strengthened and validated the partnership between our two countries, as evidenced by the many American companies that have stepped up to help the Greek government and private sector respond to the pandemic.
Major U.S. tech companies like Google, Cisco, and Microsoft have been working with the Ministries of Education, Health, Tourism, and the OAED. At the same time, companies like Hewlett Packard, Oracle, and many others have made donations to assist the government response.
I’m also very proud of the role that American technology and science is playing in helping to augment Greece’s COVID-19 response, from the Apple alerts that were sent to all of our cell phones at the height of the pandemic to Google’s big data algorithms, which helped Greek authorities identify local hot spots and determine who should be tested at the country’s borders.
A California company, Palantir, helped Greece to build sophisticated data dashboards that have been key to government decision making through the country’s economic reopening, and Cisco has provided thousands of teachers and students with the ability to connect and learn virtually through the Webex platform.
Minister Kikilias and I have remained in close contact since the start of the pandemic, focusing on investment in Greece’s healthcare sector and collaboration with the U.S. private sector on research and testing to allow normal economic activity to resume.
In May, our Embassy helped facilitate the delivery of 200,000 COVID-19 antibody tests that the Ministry of Health purchased from Abbott Corporation.
Abbott represents the very best of America’s pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, and we’ve been working together to ensure that this world-class U.S. medical technology is made available in Greece. I am confident that these tests have played an important role in helping to restart the Greek economy.
I also want to acknowledge here Abbott’s support and cooperation with the Embassy and with the Ministry of Health following the terrible tragedy at the Moria Reception and Identification Center on Lesvos. Abbott worked closely with Minister Kikilias’ team to facilitate the delivery of hundreds of thousands of additional rapid test kits that will help to prevent a larger COVID-19 outbreak on top of all of the other challenges on Lesvos right now.
Greece’s performance over the past several months has won praise from partners and media around the world, and the government has continued to make investments to strengthen the healthcare system, including increased staffing, ICU capacity, and social support. Until a vaccine is developed, this is our world. We must continue to act responsibly, to be flexible and responsive to the situation as it evolves, and we must continue to cooperate because we are all in this together.
Looking ahead, I see several areas where the U.S. government and private sector can work together with our Greek counterparts to increase investment and cooperation.
First and foremost, the development of a COVID-19 vaccine is a top global priority.
All across the United States, thousands of researchers and laboratories are working every day in our world-leading pharma industry, and inside hundreds of academic and government labs, to identify COVID-19 therapies and find a vaccine, including many leading AmCham companies like Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer.
Minister Kikilias and I had the opportunity last month to meet with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla during his trip to Greece. We discussed together Pfizer’s progress on clinical trials as well as Pfizer’s development of a new digital hub in Thessaloniki, which focuses on artificial intelligence and big data analytics. Pfizer hopes to increase its staff to 200 by this fall, taking advantage of Thessaloniki’s and Greece’s talented human capital.
This is a great example of how American companies are recognizing the deep well of talent here in Greece, and how we at the Embassy continue to build on the legacy jointly with AmCham from the 2018 Thessaloniki International Fair.
American researchers and global companies like Pfizer, Abbvie, and others are leading the charge, and I’m hopeful that their efforts will enable us to beat this virus soon so that we can take our full focus back to economic recovery.
We at the Embassy are working with our government partners to ensure that the economy recovers as quickly as possible, and we’re committed as part of that effort to supporting increased research and development activity in Greece, which we see as a sustainable way to build the economy.
I think it’s notable that Greece was one of the few countries where Gilead Sciences chose to conduct clinical trials for Remdesivir as one of the therapies for COVID-19. When I visited the AHEPA reference hospital in Thessaloniki this summer, I was so inspired to hear how scientists and doctors at that facility worked through the Greek Easter holiday to ensure that the results of those clinical trials were fed as quickly as possible into Gilead’s global effort to fight the virus.
So I welcome the news that the Greek government is continuing to expand opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to offset outstanding clawback obligations with research and development investments. This is very important to send a signal to investors in the health and technology sectors that Greece is truly supportive of innovation and research and development.
American pharmaceutical companies are leaders in developing the latest innovative medicines to combat cancers and chronic diseases. Using the latest technologies in AI, big data analytics, and genetic research, they are creating next-generation antimicrobials, ameliorating Alzheimer’s, and developing vaccines for the pandemic and other threats still unknown.
U.S. pharma companies – through the Pharma Innovation Forum – are partnering with Greece to ensure that patients have access to the drugs and treatments they need. They stand ready to help Greece improve efficiencies in its healthcare system to reduce costs and improve the quality of care.
Through the U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue, and specifically our Trade and Investment Working Group on Pharmaceutical Issues, we have been able to foster increased dialogue between the pharmaceutical industry and the government to eliminate vaccines from clawbacks.
We look forward to continued discussions between industry and government to ensure that innovative new medicines are no longer subject to a 25% entry fee, and that any clawback distribution will be fair and equitable.
Lastly, I look forward to the continued digitization of healthcare services, which builds on the fantastic work that Minister Kikilias and Minister Pierrakakis have done through the pandemic. COVID-19 has reminded us of the critical importance of the healthcare sector and presented new opportunities to collaborate and innovate in an area where America leads the world.
As these initiatives get underway, I’m confident that even more of America’s industry-leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies will choose to expand their footprint in Greece’s healthcare sector.
The pandemic has reminded us that we are all in this together. And we will get through this together, with discipline, dedicated leadership, and the innovation that continues to drive the U.S.-Greece relationship to ever higher heights.