JAKARTA, 20 September 2016 – “The Zika situation should be seen as a driver for change in our approach to health care provision. Engaging with communities to promote health and well-being and encouraging shared responsibility for health is the most effective counter to public health threats such as these”, said H.E. Dato Seri Setia Dr. Zulkarnain Hanafi, Minister of Health, Brunei Darussalam and Chair of the ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting (AHMM). This was shared during the Special Video Conference of ASEAN Health Ministers on the Threat of Zika Virus in the Region yesterday.

This video conference was conducted to respond to the need for a collective action to better prepare ASEAN Member States (AMS) against the threat of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases including Zika virus disease. This is captured in the statement of H.E. Clinical Prof. Emeritus Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, MD, Minister of Public Health, Thailand. He underscored that “in the past several years, we (AMS) have faced several pandemics in our region and every time, the ASEAN Health Ministers react collectively in a timely manner. This has built up stronger regional capacity and trust. We are transforming these challenges and crisis into an opportunity to strengthen our collective capacity.”

All ASEAN Health Ministers and their representatives, including the ASEAN Secretariat and the World Health Organization participated in the video conference to share global, regional and country situations as well as experiences on the Zika virus and its management.

Prior to this meeting, focal points from the Senior Officials Meeting on Health Development held a preparatory meeting to reaffirm existing strategic approaches for cooperation around the prevention and control of Zika outbreaks in the region and to develop and finalise the draft AHMM Joint Statement on the Threat of Zika Virus in the Region.

Globally, the prevalence of Zika virus disease has been reported in 72 countries including some countries in ASEAN.  The disease, however, is not new in the region. Similar to other mosquito-borne diseases, it requires an integrated and programmatic approach towards prevention and control.

Brunei Darussalam, as the current Chair of AHMM, emphasized that “effective surveillance systems and timely information sharing in line with the requirements of the International Health Regulations (2005) must be the backbone of the regional response to this threat. AMS needs to strengthen human resource capacities in the field of prevention, surveillance, laboratory capacity, epidemic investigation and outbreak control. Importantly, AMS must develop a resilient and sustainable health system, that is capable of absorbing the shock of a public health emergency like Zika virus disease and at the same time continue to deliver on its day to day operations.

The outcome of this meeting is a joint statement endorsed by all ASEAN Health Ministers’ on the threat of Zika virus in the region. This highlights the important rationale for addressing the Zika virus disease and the interventions necessary to enhance AMS’ preparedness and response to the disease. The Joint Statement can be downloaded here.

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