Jon Benjamin
Ambassador
British Embassy in Mexico
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Bilateral Efforts Strengthen Health, Sustainability, Development

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 01/24/2022 - 10:32

Q: What role does the embassy see tech having in transforming the health sector?

A: The UK is among the countries with major growth in the tech market, with a venture capital investment of £15 billion (US$20 billion) in 2020. Its strongest emerging trends are in education, health, climate and agricultural tech.

Healthcare is an essential part of the UK’s identity. The UK has the third-largest market in the world for medtech, contributing £25.6 billion (US$35 billion) to the UK’s annual life sciences sector turnover of over £70 billion (US$95 billion). Around 80 percent of medtech companies are SMEs. The growing trends in medtech are internet of things (IoT) in healthcare, telemedicine, artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

Mexico is a key country for the growing market of healthcare; its location is an excellent entry point into the region and to the US market. In addition, Mexico has one of the largest economies in Latin America, which makes it a very attractive destination for UK companies to invest and do business.

Due to the importance of the country and our will to share knowledge, since 2019, we have organized workshops and training sessions between the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and its Mexican counterpart the National Center for Health Technology Excellence (CENETEC). During the last week of November and the initial weeks of December, three masterclasses were delivered to different countries in the region, Mexico included. These sessions focused on the analysis and incorporation of new technologies and a proper cost-benefit analysis.

Q: How could Mexico and the UK build an alliance to enhance health access through tech, innovation and alternative financing options?

A: We have built a strong relationship with the Mexican Ministry of Health, looking for opportunities on bilateral cooperation. Memorandums of Understanding are a key element for these interactions and for future collaborations.

We hope that our collaboration between NICE and CENETEC will strengthen the evaluation processes for the analysis and inclusion of new technologies into the Mexican health system.

Having an effective cost-analysis evaluation process allows the integration of technology and innovation into the health system.

In addition to working with the public sector, promoting trade between both countries allows the exchange of knowledge and experiences in regard to technology. This strengthens innovation and the implementation of new tools to enhance the health systems.

Q: The UK and the embassy are leading actors in green energy, sustainability and climate actions. What steps are you taking to pursue and promote these goals in Mexico?

A: We have a strong collaboration with Mexico on climate. Through policy discussions and our cooperation programs, we are supporting Mexico’s efforts to transition to a low carbon economy.

The UK and Mexico work together on a wide range of topics, from electric vehicles to green finance; we support initiatives in collaboration with the federal government but also collaborate with state governments and the private sector. The transition into more sustainable practices offers a wide variety of business opportunities.

Climate change is one of the greatest threats to public health by directly influencing health outcomes related to extreme weather events, heat stress, air and water quality, wildfires, food supply and safety and with vector distribution. Thus, there are great opportunities to build a climate resilient health system, guide a rapid transition into clean renewable energies, promote sustainable, heathy, urban systems and protect and restore nature and ecosystems.

Q: How did the UK use its COP26 presidency to promote climate action and global sustainability in this recovery period? 

A: COP26 was a unique opportunity to remind all our partners that the climate emergency cannot wait. In many sectors, the transition to a net-zero carbon economy translates into economic opportunities that countries can also benefit from when recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.

The UK has done an extraordinary job at decoupling its emissions from its economic growth. By investing in innovation and research, we are creating jobs in sectors like automotive and clean energy. Our financial sector is the global hub of green finance instruments globally.

Mexico has important opportunities to transform its economy through clean growth. The potential for renewables in the country is immense and its strong automotive industry could become a regional – or even global – hub for electric vehicles. The transformation that the current president aims for – tackling poverty and creating opportunities for all – can only be achieved through sustainability.

Q: As an active actor on climate action, how is the UK promoting awareness in this subject?

A: One of the discussions we promoted in the run-up to COP26 focused on the health sector. It had two main objectives: highlight the vulnerability that health systems are already facing because of the effects of climate change and discuss the need to have more sustainable health systems. Many countries signed up to this initiative and we will continue working on this area during our year as president of COP. We need to work in health equity, robust health systems and well-nourished populations.

To support healthcare, it is necessary to develop and invest in a national health and climate change plan based on the understanding of the climate vulnerabilities of health systems. It is also necessary to invest in resilient food systems for healthy diets and secure a greater share of climate funding, since at the moment only 0.5 percent of multilateral climate finance is allocated to health projects. Significant investment is needed to develop early-warning systems, build adaptive capacity in health and food systems, provide water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, progress climate-health research and support mental health.

Q: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic deepened poverty and extreme poverty. How could Mexico-UK ties create a strategy that focuses on overcoming this panorama?

A: All economies have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and it is taking strong efforts to reactivate economies without risking the overall health of a nation. To increase trade and commercial ties with Mexico, the UK is under negotiations to be part of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and for an FTA with Mexico. As part of the FTA's negotiation process, the embassy created different industry groups to gather opinions and views on different markets, such as energy, finance, infrastructure and health.

For the UK, the life sciences sector is a significant contributor to economic growth, with 5,649 companies employing nearly 241,000 people and generating annual turnover of over £70 billion (US$95 billion) and exports of about £30 billion (US$41 billion) each year. Healthcare is one of the markets that thrived during the pandemic. Growing trends, such as genomics, telemedicine and future epidemics, among others, are opening new market opportunities all across the globe.

Q: What is the embassy's agenda on gender equality and how are you boosting this subject from your side?

A: All our work at the embassy has a gender perspective and we have a Gender Taskforce to help implement strategies, both internally and externally. In particular, we have focused our efforts on gender-based violence and female economic empowerment. We also explore intersecting areas, such as the care economy and the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls.

Last year, we launched with Intersecta a project to develop a methodology in Mexico to measure the gender pay gap. This fiscal year, we will work with Intersecta to train 50 public and private work centers to measure their gender pay gap. In 2022, we are implementing a £26,000 (US$35,648) regional project with Universidad ITESO to share the lessons learned from the UK’s flagship program, What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, with community, indigenous and religious leaders. Alongside the Canadian Embassy and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), we developed a training plan for first responders to provide professional care to tourists who have been victims of gender violence in Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Maya.

Q: Opportunities to study in the UK are some of the most attractive for Mexico’s talent. What is being done to capitalize on and strengthen this fructiferous relationship?

A: The Chevening Scholarship Program is one of the opportunities through which the UK government shares its knowledge and establishes lasting relationships. Since 1983, it has helped Mexican talent to become future leaders, influencers and decision-makers by undertaking a yearlong master's at British universities.

Of the almost 3,000 alumni, 111 have focused on health-related areas, such as public health, surgery, integrated immunology, aerospace and regenerative medicine, medical anthropology, neuroscience, infectious diseases, biomaterials, pediatrics and antimicrobial resistance.

 

Jon Benjamin has been the UK Ambassador to Mexico since August 2021. In this role, his priorities are to further strengthen British-Mexican ties, with an emphasis on restoring bilateral trade volumes to a record level after the COVID-19 pandemic setback and negotiating a new treaty for bilateral free trade.

Photo by:   UK Embassy
Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst