(Israel-Germany conference on artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health, Berlin).
(תמונה: עם הקנצלר המיועד, אולף שולץ)
Thank you to the Minister of Health Spahn and the people of the German Ministry of Health, led by the Directorate of Digital Health for the initiative and realization of the common desire for cooperation in digital health issues.
Thanks also to the senior members of Elnet Germany and the team for the important work to promote ties between Germany and Israel in the field of health and many other areas. And of course about organizing this platform for dialogue between countries and the event today.
I am happy to open not only this wonderful conference – but more importantly – the beginning of a longer collaboration – three years, around artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health to harness the common and often complementary innovation activities that taking place in the two countries for the benefit of public health and the population at large. The establishment of this joint forum and especially dialogue and cooperation between the countries in the fields of digital health and joint promotion of emerging technologies in the field of health – will bring added value to both parties.
Governments are not the only actors that need to work together to address the challenges of the health care system. The collaborations cross all sectors: health organizations, academia, and industry, but governments have a significant role to play in creating the necessary collaborations.
Practical and long-term collaborations are something that needs to be worked on hard, so that we can face the challenges of the health care system that are only growing.
Israel-Germany relations are an excellent infrastructure for launching this type of cooperation.
Germany has led significant revolutions in recent years, laying important infrastructure for the medicine of the future. Cooperation with Germany allows us to think together about the next steps.
Moreover – it will bring value to the whole ecosystem in both countries: policies and regulation at the government level, joint research and development in academia and research institutions and industry on both sides. Therefore, I am happy to see here as speakers and in the audience representatives of all these sectors.
We are at a health conference, and it is impossible not to start with the topic that concerns us all most of all at the moment, the global struggle against COVID-19.
Israel is currently at the end of the fourth wave, or the Delta Wave. In our case, in addition to changing variants, the government has also changed (well, it took 4 elections in a row, but in the end it happened). As a result, our approach to pandemic management policy also changed. This time we said from the first moment: We will live – alongside COVID-19. No closures, no severe restrictions on the economy and the public, while effectively maintaining public health.
We have seen in the last two years, all over the world, that the social and economic price of closures is extremely high. Extensive damage to the economy, the public's ability to earn a living, education, culture and sports – all of which ultimately harm health as well. We are seeing today the dire consequences of closures on health, welfare and all social systems.
Therefore, after 3 difficult closures in Israel, we pursued a different, long-term strategy. Understanding that after the Delta variant, another variant will also be discovered, after which another one we have decided that we do not live from lockdown to lockdown, and we will not silence society and the economy every time.
We left the economy open, allowed free movement, opened the school year on time and allowed cultural and sports activities. To make this possible, as here in Germany, we have laid the groundwork in Israel that will allow us to live alongside the virus for a long time.
The green pass, a national deployment of speed tests and pcr tests, very close supervision of the airport and the entrances and exits from Israel, and of course, the most important and effective means, the vaccine. Israel was the first to vaccinate with a booster dose, and this decision helped us greatly in preserving the lives of Israeli citizens, and the routine of life.
Now, in a broad backward perspective, one has to admit: there is one star shining in the struggle with COVID-19, without it, no matter what we would have done and what decisions we would have made, we would not have faced it successfully. COVID-19 reminded us how critical it is – I'm talking about state regulated universal health coverage paired with a strong public system. Today, there is no doubt that countries with stronger State regulated universal health coverage are much more prepared and protected from major crises.
The public health system in Israel, built on the foundations of universal healthcare, is the one that has saved lives more than anything else, and it deserves the greatest credit. The sick funds and public hospitals, the amazing infrastructure that knows better than any other body to reach every person in Israel, and allows access to treatment and vaccinations, for anyone regardless of their place of residence, origin and most importantly – regardless of their income level, is responsible for success in the fight against COVID-19.
It is not enough, if in the last decades we had invested more in the public system, and not underestimated its power, we would have saved more lives.
COVID-19 taught us an important lesson in social solidarity. I want to share with you some interesting data on this matter. When I took office, I asked the staff to map out the unvaccinated data in Israel, the people with the highest potential to become infected, infect others and to get sick.
For us, the results are not surprising at all – "ideological" opponents of vaccines are a negligible percentage and almost numerically insignificant. The unvaccinated map is an accurate reflection of the inequality map. Economically weak populations, populations that feel discriminated against and excluded, whose trust in state institutions is lower – are much, much less vaccinated. The best indication to expect whether a person will be vaccinated or not, even when the vaccine is available to all free of charge, is the socio-economic disparities and the sense of institutional discrimination felt by that person.
COVID-19 does not differentiate between Jews, Muslims or Christians, secular or religious, nor between the poor and the rich. Infection and morbidity affected everyone. The hospitals took care of everyone. And when the disease spread, and the hospitals faced a heavy burden, every citizen in the country was harmed by it. without exceptions. Whoever thought that inequality only harms the weaker sections, whoever ignored the social gaps on the assumption that they did not touch him – realized that he was making a serious mistake. This is true for Israel, it is true for Europe, it is true for the whole world.
Inequality will hurt everyone, without exception. Therefore, strengthening the public system, not the private one, is both the moral thing to do and the most effective for the health of all.
This is what we are doing now in Israel. The biggest and most important challenge for me is not COVID-19, but restoring the power of the public system. A strong public system will face every epidemic and every challenge that comes. And without it, we will not survive even the smallest crisis.
COVID-19 is also blind to borders, and another important thing we have done in the new government is to strengthen cooperation in the fight against the corona between us and our closest neighbors – the Palestinians. COVID-19 which does not recognize borders nor national conflicts has brought us, and I am very happy about it, to join hands, despite the difficulties. And I am sure that on this basis, we will strengthen cooperation in more and more areas.
During the pandemic we learned firsthand the power and limitations of cooperation between countries – the very type of collaboration being promoted here in the area of digital health. In a global pandemic, countries must cooperate. We learned how difficult it is, and how important it is.
Israel has started early in implementing innovation in the health system and has extensive experience to bring to the table, but we face many of the same chalanges that are being addressed by significant reforms carried out in Germany in recent years. This creates an environment where cooperation between us can produce a significant outcomes.
Israel is an early adopter for implementing digital systems in healthcare
Over 25 years of diverse information exists in our databases, and since we are a country of such diversity, the data covers a genetically diverse population.
We have a relatively centralized system, each citizen belongs to a health fund that usually covers them for their entire life, but on the other hand it is based on healthy competition between HMO’s for members that causes them to try to take advantage of the digital revolution and constantly improve their services.
The Israeli healthcare system greatly benefits from the powerful ecosystem of innovation in Israel: There are about 700 digital health startups.
We see a great many collaborations that make it possible to imagine a world of better medicine: proactive, holistic, data-based, and customized medicine, which always places people, both patient and caregivers at the center.
The challenges facing the systems: aging population, lack of manpower and physical infrastructure, rising drug prices, require us to rethink the rules of the game through the use of technology.
Using AI we can imagine a world where new tools enable decision support and diagnostics, health care can become more personalized, drug discovery can take full advantage of advanced computing technology to reach new discoveries faster, crisis managers can have better information to guide decision makers and remote monitoring of patients can enable earlier detection of problems while reducing the load on physicians.
The developments of further ways to utilize data will lead to better continuity of care, more patient access to their personal data with better personalized outcomes and more patient empowerment. This will lead to new trust models between doctors and patients and exponential growth in research and innovation as researchers and patients access data sources that were not previously available at such a scale.
The importance of the digital health field is great and only growing. Promoting collaborations between the parties as well as knowledge sharing continues. Also in the past year, and especially during the pandemic, many people on both sides have worked hard to promote the field and the connection between the two communities – due to COVID-19 – through virtual events for the most part, while exposing capabilities in the field and encouraging meetings between Israeli industry and the German market.
In recent years, Germany has undergone a gradual process of digitization and recognition of the need to assimilate innovation at all levels and sectors: both in the private sector and in the government, both among old and traditional companies and certainly among technology companies.
Thank you to Minister Spahn for the invitation to come and congratulate him on the beginning of this partnership. Minister Spahn demonstrated friendship towards Israel in the good times and during the COVID-19 period and we will remember this.
It is my firm belief that collaborations that will be started at this forum will eventually transform the way we provide healthcare. That together we can build great things for the benefit of humanity. We have a great deal of work ahead of us and a great deal that we can learn from each other.