SEED Trip for Experts on Public Health

For its eighth Sasakawa USA Emerging Experts Delegation (SEED), Sasakawa USA selected a group of nine U.S. public health experts with experience as medical practitioners, policy advisors, researchers, and media producers. Participants hailed from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); CNN Health; Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services; Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO); and AcademyHealth – representing an array of regional and functional expertise.

The delegation participated in a study trip to Tokyo, Japan from July 31 to August 6, 2022 to deepen their understanding of Japanese perspectives on the COVID-19 response, and the principles and goals behind the Japanese government and medical community’s handling of the pandemic.

The program also offered pre-trip virtual briefings to introduce the participants to Japanese domestic affairs and Japanese thinking on democracy promotion. For most of the participants, this trip was the first time they were able to spend time in Japan.

Meetings and Roundtable Discussions in Tokyo

Given the increased focus on public health because of the COVID-19 pandemic, collaboration on establishing best practices on public health has become a focus of international relations, including national security. As the U.S. and Japan have entered a new phase of COVID-19 infections, there are opportunities for experts from the two sides to learn from their respective experiences and strengthen their relationship and preparation for the next pandemic.

In Tokyo, the 2022 delegation met with Japanese federal, prefectural, and local politicians and officials, public health experts, health security scholars, journalists, and health practitioners. As the delegation possessed a wide variety of functional expertise, Sasakawa USA arranged meetings to discuss COVID-19 response and emergency response preparedness to grow their own understanding for how to address future global health crises and foster collaboration with Japan. Discussions were mostly held under Chatham House/off-the-record settings.

Sasakawa USA arranged several meetings with former and current Japanese government officials from the House of Councilors, Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW), and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

For the first meeting of the week, the SEED delegation met with the Honorable Keizo Takemi, Member of the House of Councilors to learn about the general landscape of Japan’s response to COVID-19 and what initiatives are in action and to come. In this meeting, it was discussed that Japan intends to respond to COVID-19 with the 100 Days Mission, which was first proposed by the United Kingdom in 2021 and was backed by other nations in the G7. In March 2022, Japan launched its Strategic Center of Biomedical Advanced Vaccine Research and Development for Preparedness and Response (SCARDA) which has been likened to the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA). Further, objectives on global health policy and cooperation will be discussed at the 2023 G7 Summit in Hiroshima.

With officials from the Japanese MOFA, the delegation discussed Japan’s global health policy and cooperation objectives. With officials from the Japanese MHLW, the delegation discussed the difficulty of planning an exit strategy from emergency and pandemic response and shared their respective challenges working in public health in Japan and in the United States.

The group also met with current and former representatives of the Cabinet Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office. These meetings helped the delegation understand how Japan’s response to COVID-19 was tailored to the behavior and underlying culture of Japan. For example, it was said that the government in Japan cannot impose a lockdown like what was seen in Western Europe, but even without it, a majority of Japanese people stayed at home, listening to government recommendations through carefully crafted public health messaging, using the Three C’s. From these meetings, the group learned about how Japan’s culture and history influence its approach to public health and emergency response. From the former “vaccine czar” under the Suga Administration, the Honorable Taro Kono, the SEED delegates learned about challenges Japan faced in procuring the vaccine, distributing the vaccine, and administering the vaccine to its people.

In addition, SEED participants met with Japanese Diet members from the House of Representatives, who responded to the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Yokohama port in February 2020. These representatives described their experiences and views on Japan’s handling of the Diamond Princess cruise ship as a case study and the importance of global health cooperation with little to no information on the pandemic at the time. The SEED delegation visited Yokohama to meet with government officials from Kanagawa Prefecture and discussed their immediate response to the Diamond Princess outbreak. Hearing the perspectives from a prefectural governmental perspective illuminated the strengths as well as some challenges that Japan faced in responding to COVID-19.

The 2022 SEED delegation met with subject-area experts and public health practitioners from Japan’s Government COVID-19 Advisory Panel, Japan’s COVID-19 Response Review Panel, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, National Center for Global Health and Medicine, The Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases, and Center for Infectious Disease Education and Research of Osaka University. At these meetings, delegates—some of whom also medical doctors as well—gained additional perspective from voices from inside hospitals and vaccination administration strategists. Japan’s response to COVID-19 was discussed as delegates learned that Japan took advantage of their local public health centers (hokenjo in Japanese) available through their universal health coverage structure. The accessibility of public health centers served as a unique model of regionalized public heath delivery, adapting to serve its respective local communities. It was a model that the United States system could not support.

The trip also exposed the group to non-profit and for-profit landscapes through meetings with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research, and the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren)Meetings with non-profit sector leaders provided an opportunity to deepen the delegation’s knowledge of the history and evolution of Japan’s non-profit sector, inquire about the non-profit sector’s views on Japan’s track record in increasing global health cooperation, and explore the role of the non-profit sector in supporting global health initiatives through research. Regarding the for-profit sector, the delegation learned how Japan’s corporations were affected by COVID-19 and their role in enhancing cooperation for the reestablishment of the free and open international economic order.

Cultural Excursions in Tokyo

For many of the delegates, it was their first time in Japan. The group was introduced to traditional Japanese culture with their visit at Asakusa as well as to Tokyo’s cityscape atop the Tokyo Sky Tree.

Conclusion

The trip resulted in greater understanding among delegation members about Japan’s response to COVID-19 and their initiatives in strengthening and enhancing global health cooperation to be even better prepared for a future pandemic or emergency public health situation. The group also deepened their knowledge of how and why Japan and its culture differ from the United States reflected in its COVID-19 response, which highlighted the shared motivation to cooperate toward global initiatives. As a result, participants departed Tokyo with greater appreciation for Japan and the U.S.-Japan relationship.

To demonstrate their increased understanding and interest in Japan, participants will share their findings and thoughts from the trip through post-trip publications. The program will also offer them networking opportunities to continue their engagement with U.S.-Japan relations going forward. Sasakawa USA looks forward to sharing their publications and activities in the near future.

2022 SEED Participants 

Ms. Natalie de Graaf, Bio-Lead and Strategy Lead, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), Division of Strategy

Ms. Rishika Desai, Senior Manager, AcademyHealth

Dr. Matthew Donahue, State Epidemiologist, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services

Ms. Catherine Evans, Interdisciplinary Scientist, HHS-ASPR

Dr. Barbara Knust, Asia Program Director, Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Ms. Alyssa Merski, MPH, MA, Senior Analyst – Social and Behavioral Health, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)

Ms. Alana Morrell, Interdisciplinary Scientist, HHS-ASPR

CAPT Christopher L. Perdue, MD, MPH, (USA, Ret.), U.S. Public Health Service, Senior Policy Analyst and National Advisory Committee Executive Director, HHS-ASPR

Ms. Amanda Sealy, Senior Producer for Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Cable News Network (CNN)

Read participant bios here.

Participant Perspectives

Photos

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