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06RABAT159 2006-01-30 16:52:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Rabat
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1. SUMMARY: National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director
Elias Zerhouni visited Morocco January 23-24 to meet GOM
health authorities and explore opportunities for U.S.-Morocco
cooperation in the field of public health and biomedical
research. During his Jan. 23 meeting with the Minister of
Health, Director Zerhouni signed a Letter of Intent with the
Moroccan National Institute of Hygiene, outlining the two
agencies' will to expand cooperative activities in the areas
of infectious disease and cancer. Zerhouni also met with the
Prime Minister, with representatives of the National Oncology
Institute, the Pharmaceutical Industry Association and the
Pasteur Institute. END SUMMARY.

2. During a breakfast meeting hosted by the Ambassador, NIH
Director Zerhouni outlined his intention to expand the range
of cooperative activities between NIH scientists and research
agencies in the Maghreb. Zerhouni said NIH's areas of focus
in Morocco were newborn screening and infectious disease.
Zerhouni praised Morocco's "tremendous human capital" in the
medical research field, singling out Dr. Rajae El Aouad,
Director of Morocco's National Institute of Hygiene, whom
Zerhouni had met during El Aouad's visit to NIH in 2004.
Zerhouni, however, lamented the relative void of medical
research collaboration between the United States and the
Maghreb, noting that of 2,700 foreign scientists currently
working at NIH, only five are Moroccan, compared with nearly
500 Chinese.

3. Director Zerhouni then met with Minister of Health
Mohammed Cheikh Biadillah to explore ways in which Moroccan
scientists and health professionals might take part in
NIH-supported research. During that meeting, Zerhouni signed
a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Morocco's National Institute of
Hygiene, expressing both agencies' desire to increase
collaboration and contacts. The LOI is a non-binding
expression of intent to strengthen institutional ties in the
areas of infectious disease, maternal and child health,
medical informatics, cancer, and capacity building in vaccine
production. Mechanisms for collaboration may include joint
research projects, organization of scientific colloquia, and
training opportunities for researchers.

4. Minister Biadillah said he hoped the recently-implemented
U.S.-Morocco FTA will facilitate greater cooperation in the
biomedical field. Biadillah said the agreement's
intellectual property protections and investment guarantees,
along with Morocco's new draft pharmaceutical code, will spur
greater U.S. investment in the pharmaceutical sector. The
minister noted that Morocco faces the particular difficulty
of suffering from both "first world" diseases like cancer and
heart disease, as well as "third world" ailments like
communicable diseases resulting from poverty.

5. Biadillah outlined some of the areas he feels are ripe
for future collaboration, such as research on communicable
diseases like leishmaniasis, and on certain types of cancer
that are particularly prevalent in the region. He also noted
the opportunity NIH activities present for region-wide
cooperation with Algeria and Tunisia. Director Zerhouni
agreed with the need for regional programs, citing the
transnational nature of the issues and highlighting NIH's
desire to develop a "practical and specific" program for the
region. Zerhouni noted that an NIH representative will visit
Morocco at the end of February to help create a cancer
registry in Morocco, and to explore the possibility of
setting up a birth defect registry in the future.

6. During visits to the National Oncology Institute and the
Pharmaceutical Industry Association, the NIH delegation
explored with their Moroccan counterparts the possibility of
organizing in Morocco a regional conference on newborn
screening in the fall of 2006.

7. In a meeting with Prime Minister Driss Jettou, Director
Zerhouni and Ambassador detailed the content of the LOI and
NIH's vision for collaboration with Moroccan scientists. The
Prime Minister expressed his deep satisfaction with the
signing of the LOI and his appreciation for Zerhouni's visit.
He suggested that both sides should capitalize on the
momentum generated by the visit to "pass quickly from the
theory to the practice," lest the LOI become "just another
signed accord" with little follow-through.

8. Zerhouni agreed and said Morocco is an ideal partner for
NIH, due to the country's openness to international
collaboration and the high quality of human resources at
Morocco's National Institute of Hygiene. He noted that NIH
would aspire to maintain a regional component to its
activities, linking Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian
scientists through NIH activities. PM Jettou approved of
this focus and thanked Zerhouni and the United States for
"helping us develop a more normal relationship with our
Algerian neighbor."

9. Director Zerhouni did not have an opportunity to clear
this cable.
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