Speech by Hugo de Jonge, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, at the Well Ageing Society Summit 2019
Speech by Hugo de Jonge, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport of the Netherlands, at the Well Ageing Society Summit in Tokyo on October 17, 2019.
Ladies and gentlemen,
What an honor it is to be with you here today at the Well Aging Society Summit in Japan. Relations between our two countries go back more than 400 years. Since 1609, the Netherlands has been an important – and at times the only – Western trade partner to Japan. From the island of Dejima, we traded spices, silver and silk. And as we traded goods, we also exchanged knowledge. You're scholars learned from our ships’ doctors. And our doctors learned from your scholars.
I see this Summit as continuing this centuries-old tradition of exchanging knowledge. And so I’m proud that there’s a delegation of Dutch research institutions and companies here today to share their knowledge and experience with you. They’re keen to work with Japanese innovators to find new healthcare solutions together. When it comes to innovation, Japan has an admirable track record – your country is the second largest patent holder in the world. For those of you who aren’t very familiar with the Netherlands, let me first tell you a little about it. It’s a small country. With a population of just 17 million. To put that into perspective, Tokyo City alone has a population of nearly 14 million. Size is not the only difference between our two countries. Fortunately, however, we also have a lot in common. For example, Japan and the Netherlands are experiencing similar demographic changes. Currently, 8.4 percent of our population is over 75 years old. By 2040, that percentage will have risen to the point where Japan is today, namely 14.2 percent. Which means we’ll soon be facing the demographic challenges you face today. Just like Japan, the Netherlands will have to prepare for a future in which the number of older people doubles but the size of the workforce remains the same. As the population of older people grows, so does life expectancy. And as people age, they tend to have more chronic conditions, become less mobile, and require care and assistance. So we need new solutions. Not just in one area, but I see them in three areas. To meet the needs of a growing ageing population, we need:
- more research on how to prevent, treat and cure illnesses that affect older people;
- a change in how we organize our healthcare ;
- a change in how we organize our societies.
The first is to scale up our research. For too long we’ve assumed that ageing related diseases are a fact of life for which treatment is not possible. Take dementia as a point in case. Research on dementia is still in the early stages. We still have more questions than answers. Although the funding for dementia research increased the past few years, dementia remains an underfunded area of medicine. Worldwide, the ratio of publications on neurodegenerative disorders versus cancer is an astonishing 1:12. The same holds true for a number of age-related conditions. We’re going to have to scale up our research on how to prevent, treat and cure dementia. In the years ahead, we intend to double government funding for research on dementia. I applaud the countries that have done the same and I call upon other countries to step up funding too. I call upon all of us to work together on research programs. But until a treatment is found, we must also try to find ways of making the lives of those living with dementia as pleasant as possible.
We can do this by researching effective types of care and support, how to make our communities more dementia-friendly and applying smart technology that works. And by applying the findings to existing treatments. Because whether or not they have dementia, older people want to maintain their independence and dignity just like everybody else. And so I think it’s great that the Netherlands and Japan are already working together, researching how to deal with an ageing society. Tohoku University Hospital and the Dutch company Philips have partnered together and recently opened their first innovation co- creation centre in Sendai to address the impact of Japan’s rapidly ageing population.
Our second area of focus in tackling the challenge of an ageing population is to change the way we organize our healthcare. Just like in Japan, shifting demographics in the Netherlands mean there will be more people in need of healthcare and more or less the same workforce to provide it. In the Netherlands today one in seven people already works in healthcare. If we don’t change the way we organize our healthcare, this ratio will be one in four in the future. We simply can’t allow that to happen. Which is why intelligent minds in Japan and the Netherlands are working hard to find meaningful technological and social solutions to benefit the health and wellbeing of our citizens. That starts with preventing people from needing care, or needing more care and support. Yesterday, I visited Kanagawa prefecture, where I learned about the ‘Me-Byo’ concept in which a healthy diet, sufficient exercise and social engagement are key elements. Exercising can indeed be a big help. Present here today is BikeLabyrinth. This company designed a simple yet very effective virtual bike tour solution to motivate patients and elderly people with tailor-made exercise on a home trainer and improve their rehabilitation and quality of life. The IT-company called ‘Frenetti’ developed an innovative approach to manage nursing capital to improve the quality of health care professionals and the way their teams function as a whole by individual and team assessment. Also, the organisation ‘Buurtzorg’ (this means ‘neighbourhood care’) has developed a nurse-led, holistic community care model. Buurtzorg has had a positive impact in the Netherlands and is currently engaged in a joint venture with partners in Japan. And the award winning start-up ‘Kheiron Medical Technologies’ is present today to tell you about artificial intelligence they designed to help radiologists and improve breast cancer screening. It also reduces lab costs. Finding solutions that work for everyone, however, can be a real challenge. And it’s taking too long in the Netherlands to replace certain aspects of traditional healthcare service delivery with smart healthcare. Often this has little to do with the smart technology itself and more to do with people’s aversion to change and systems that discourage it. Also with the fact that individual care homes are all trying to come up with their own solutions, rather than using the ones that already exist. So we’re keen to learn how you are handling this here. Our visit to the CEATEC Exhibition yesterday provided good insight into what we can expect to see in the years ahead. And we look forward to working with you to create and put into use smart technologies that offer healthcare solutions for an ageing society.
Our third area of focus in tackling the issue of an ageing population involves rethinking the way we organize ourselves as a society. In the Netherlands, we have for example set up a National Pact for Elderly care, in partnership with banks, supermarkets, mail delivery services, public transport operators and social organisations. The aim of the pact is to enable elderly people to grow old with dignity. One focus is on tackling loneliness and social isolation. Within this framework, firms that provide parcel delivery services have volunteered to take on another role – in addition to delivering parcels, their personnel will also actively seek out contact with older people on the other side of the door. They are often quick to know if an elderly person is lonely or needs help. Supermarkets are also doing their share. There are now shops that have ‘chatty checkouts’, which are checkout lanes for anyone who would like to have a small talk and does not want to feel rushed. There are also supermarkets that create a coffee corner where people can meet and talk. These examples inspire other business owners to take responsibility too. Perhaps you ask: doesn’t that cost them money? In the short run maybe it does. A staffed chatty checkout is more expensive than a self-scan checkout. But business owners also feel a certain social responsibility towards their clients. And I believe that elderly people are ultimately more likely to shop at a place where they feel valued. So in the long run, business will see a positive return on investment.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Japanese and Dutch societies are wrestling with the same problem. To deal with the problem of ageing, partners from different sectors will need to work together. In the healthcare sector, in the economy, in society and, in a globalized world, also internationally. Because often the best solutions stem from cross-border cooperation. Japan and the Netherlands are strong partners. That’s something our ancestors already knew 400 years ago. And our current partnerships prove that that is still true today. We already work together in many ways. And today our delegation seeks to build on that partnership by sharing some of the latest Dutch innovations with you here. I’m so glad to be part of this important international exchange, sharing expertise and innovative solutions that will benefit our ageing societies. I encourage you to make the most of this opportunity to explore partnerships that could benefit our health and wellbeing. Because ultimately we are all in the same boat. Over 400 years ago, our Japanese-Dutch partnerships brought us economic and intellectual progress. Let us continue this tradition here today!