Guest Commentary by Dr. Dr. Jeanette Vega
Chile and the United States—Forming a Proud Partnership
That we live in a global community, one in which events in one city or country can have serious consequences for residents of another city or country thousands of miles away, is undeniable. Whether it’s the H1N1 virus pandemic, the current unrest in Iran, or the worldwide economic downturn, this interconnectivity obviously brings about significant challenges. But it can also create unprecedented opportunities, in particular those that may substantially improve public health.
An agreement announced last week between officials from the United States and the Republic of Chile provides a shining example of one such opportunity. Under a Letter of Intent (LOI) signed by NCI Director Dr. John E. Niederhuber and me, the partnership sets the stage for cooperative efforts between our countries in a number of important research areas, including basic and clinical cancer research, bioinformatics, and training and resource sharing.
These efforts will be conducted under the auspices of the United States-Latin America Cancer Research Network, which was established this past March. Chile is a proud member of this network, along with Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Uruguay. The LOI between Chile and the United States is a direct outcome of this Network and reinforces what I believe are the keys to the success of such global initiatives: collaboration, collaboration, and collaboration.
The partnerships being created as a result of these activities set the stage for important progress throughout Latin America and the United States on cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment and survivorship, particularly with regard to cancers that have an outsized impact in Hispanic communities, such as breast cancer and, in Chile in particular, gallbladder cancer.
In fact, a research project on gallbladder cancer is one of three specific, high-priority activities that our two countries have chosen to pursue initially under this LOI. The other two are the creation of a national cancer registry and national tumor bank in Chile, both of which will enable Chilean scientists to conduct cutting-edge research and work more closely with their counterparts throughout the world.
Although gallbladder cancer is rare in the United States and many other countries, the incidence and mortality rates of this disease are particularly high among women in my country, and specifically among the Mapuche Indians, who primarily reside in central and southern Chile.
Working with NCI, we hope to conduct research that will help us better understand why gallbladder cancer rates are so much higher in certain Chilean populations, as well as to develop ways to reverse that trend. This is not a one-way street, however. Such efforts may well lead to a greater understanding of the natural history of gallbladder cancer, as well as greater insights into more effective modalities of its prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment, all of which are desperately needed, regardless of one’s country of residence.
During their meeting last week at the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet both cited this new agreement between our countries as one of several important areas where we can jointly work to improve health and well being.
As the meeting of our countries’ respective leaders and the joint efforts that we are now undertaking demonstrate, we share the same important aims: to improve the lives of our citizenry through better medical care, educational and employment opportunities, and enhanced prosperity. By working together, I have no doubt we can achieve great ends.
Dr. Jeanette Vega
Undersecretary of Public Health, Republic of Chile