ASEAN efforts to maintain a common defense against the new Influenza A (H1N1) made strong headway today with the adoption of collective regional measures to be undertaken against the disease. The region’s initiatives also received full support from its Dialogue Partners – China, Japan and the Republic of Korea.

The collective regional measures were adopted by the ASEAN + 3 Health Ministers’ Special Meeting on Influenza A (H1N1) held in Bangkok on 8 May 200. The agreed measures, issued in a Joint Ministerial Statement include the continuous implementation of national pandemic preparedness plans; strengthening surveillance and responses; and effective communication especially within the public realm to avoid panic and social disruption.

“The region has received a booster shot in our common efforts to address this new form of Influenza,” said Dr Surin Pitsuwan, the Secretary-General of ASEAN. The discussions in this Ministerial Meeting have strengthened our resolve and capacity to initiate and harmonize our key public health measures, including travel-related policies and also mobilization of antiviral drugs and logistics, said Dr Surin.

ASEAN is to undertake logistical exercises to ensure effective and timely deployment of stockpiles of medicines, medical supplies and other personal protective equipment in the event of a future pandemic.

The Ministers in the Joint Ministerial Statement also encouraged the transfer of technology in relation to the production of antiviral medicines and vaccines. Regional cooperation measures such as establishing hotlines among national health authorities, joint investigation and response teams, and strengthening research were also stressed by the Ministers.

Plans are already underway for further assistance to ASEAN especially in the area of capacity-building and research. “China will work closely and provide necessary technical assistance to ASEAN countries, like in the struggle against H5N1,” said Dr. Chen Zhu, the Minister of Health of the People’s Republic of China. China, he said, is willing to organize, as soon as possible, training courses for rapid diagnostic technology and provide reference reagents to ASEAN member states. China would also be convening an international scientific conference on Influenza A (H1N1) shortly.

The Special Meeting benefited from the interaction, via digital video-conferencing, with the Atlanta-based US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Richard Besser, its Acting Director, briefed the Health Ministers on current updates on effective responses in the US. In a gesture of solidarity and support, a recorded message from the Health Minister of Mexico, Jose Cordova, was also relayed to the Meeting.

The UN had earlier, during the senior officials meeting on 7 May, cited ASEAN as one of the most advanced regions for pandemic preparedness including multi-sectoral preparedness and conduct of simulation exercises at various levels. However, Mr David Nabarro, Head of the UN System Influenza Coordination had reminded ASEAN to review and strengthen its pandemic preparedness plans and to maintain its guard.

The World Bank, meanwhile, in expressing concern over a possibility of pandemic in the midst of a global recession, said that it was ready to provide assistance to the countries in the region to support their capacities in surveillance, preparedness and response to H1N1.