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EditorialIsland Voices

Hawaii should strive to be regional leader in health care

What is the smartest way for Hawaii to take advantage of its role as host of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November 2011?

As Gregg Yamanaka, CEO of the APEC host committee, said about the mission: "It’s to promote the future of economic development, and the legacy for generations to come."

It’s not just about promoting tourism, he said.

No argument there.

But what type of economic development — in addition to tourism — would generate the best return for Hawaii?

Let’s send the message that Hawaii is the innovative health care leader focused on the Asia-Pacific market.

Health care is already big business in Hawaii. More than 63,000 people work here in health care, which accounts for about $7 billion in economic activity each year.

To be a regional leader in health care requires collaboration in three areas: innovative research, world- class clinical trials and health services. Hawaii has all three, plus a robust visitor industry that would be happy to host Asians seeking health care in the U.S.

Here’s what we have going for us:

Hawaii is fast becoming a major cancer research center. Much of the work at the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Research Center involves cancers affecting Asians. The CRCH is recruiting world-class researchers in the areas of lung, stomach, liver, breast and prostate cancers, which are the major diseases of concern to Asians. Innovators such as Dr. Baruch Blumberg, Nobel laureate for discovering Hepatitis B which leads to liver cancer, has visited Hawaii and have agreed to collaborate with our researchers. Groundbreaking for a new 150,000-square-foot cancer center that will help recruit premier researchers is planned for Oct. 28.

Hawaii already has a large business in clinical trials — about 1,200, with about 300 related to cancer. The Chinese government recognizes the validity of clinical trials on our local Chinese, and accepts those trials for approval. Large U.S. and European pharmaceutical companies are now considering holding trials here. Hawaii also has a good shot at becoming a center for Chinese cancer treatment, given that many of the 400 million middle-class Chinese are starting to seek treatment in the U.S. The University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine is also focusing on Pacific region diseases.

The business opportunities include patents for medical innovations. ABC-TV just did a story about cornea cloning technology pioneered by Hawaii’s Cellular Bioengineering, and Merck has recently acquired the rights to a dengue fever vaccine from Hawaii Biotech Inc.

Treatment and support of Asian-Pacific patients and their families could give a significant boost to our health and tourism industries. Health tourists pay full boat, and their expenses are their own and their own governments’ responsibility. This could be a profitable addition to our doctors and hospitals that are seeing their reimbursements under attack. Health tourists and their families tend to stay here longer and spend more than vacationing tourists.

As the middle classes of China, Korea, Southeast Asia and other Pacific islands grow in wealth and size, they will seek medical treatment in the U.S. With our multicultural tradition, aloha and focus on Asian-Pacific cancers and chronic diseases, Hawaii could lead this market.


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