PUBLIC health has become one of the top priorities between Asean members and China in the wake of the Covid-19 that has ravaged the world for more than a year.
A series of joint initiatives have been set up to enhance public health but experts feel that more efforts should be taken to strengthen cooperation as participating countries play a greater role in battling the pandemic.
Asean deputy secretary-general for socio-cultural community Kung Phoak said the region has been experiencing adverse impact from the outbreak, from social development, economy to general well-being.
As of May 21, some 3.7 million people in South-East Asia have
been infected with the novel coronavirus, with almost 75,000 deaths recorded.
“The situation now is further compounded by the risks of new variants, the challenges of vaccine roll-out and production, ” he said.
Kung said the region could cooperate further by enhancing networking to deal with fake news and misinformation, upgrading the healthcare system, strengthening logistics support and using information technology to address future public health emergencies.
Recently, government senior officials, health experts, key players in the pharmaceutical industry and professionals from the related fields met in Xuzhou of China’s eastern coastal Jiangsu province for the Asean-China Public Health Cooperation Symposium.
Themed “Working Together for Sustainable Development and Innovation”, they brainstormed on ideas on making the region a safe place for all at the event.
The speakers have emphasised the importance of vaccine development and efficacy, virus tracking and detection, as well as the accuracy of the nucleic acid test.
Prof Zheng Zhijie of Peking University Health Science Centre said a comprehensive regional surveillance and warning mechanism was needed to better prevent and control infectious diseases.
He noted that sharing of information and big data could predict the possible development of an outbreak while helping policymakers decide the best preventive measures and solutions in dealing with a pandemic.
He also called for better cooperation in talent development, proposing for Asean-China to conduct joint courses on public health, such as emergency response strategies, drug supervision and administration.
Asean-China secretary-general Chen Dehai reiterated that infectious diseases were common enemies of mankind.
“Asean countries and China should strengthen cooperation to better cope with the pandemic and other public health emergency, ” he pointed out.
He called on the two sides to enhance capacity building to improve efficiency, equity and effectiveness of the health sector via information sharing, mass care, epidemiological investigation, medical material management and distribution, among others.
“We also need to work together on vaccine and medicine research and development as well as virus tracking.
“China has accumulated experience in the use of artificial intelligence, big data, health code, blockchain and drones in the fight against the pandemic and we can share them with the world, ” he said.
Chen revealed that China had also contributed US$1mil (RM4.14mil) to the Asean Covid-19 Response Fund, set up in April last year to deal with the immediate needs and long-term goals of the member states arising from the pandemic, as well as to support research and development relevant to the coronavirus.
Malaysian ambassador Raja Datuk Nushirwan Zainal Abidin said Asean and China’s cooperation in public health began with a special meeting involving foreign ministers from both sides in February last year, soon after the coronavirus was detected.
That meeting was said to be the first international event to address the outbreak, he noted.
“Since then, we have cooperated deeply at many levels, ” he added.
As an outcome, Asean Plus Three (APT), which consists of the 10 South-East Asian countries, China, Japan and South Korea, have agreed to strengthen early pandemic warning and real-time information exchange, as well as set up a regional medical supply stockpile.
“The APT also emphasised on food security during these difficult times and agreed on the utilisation of the Emergency Rice Reserve.
“Most recently, the Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies (RRMS) was launched in November last year, ” he pointed out.
RRMS, aimed at helping Asean better prepare and response in a timely manner to public health emergencies and pandemic, will see the swift distribution of readily available stockpile of essential
medical supplies or personal protective equipment (PPE) to affected member states.
Speaking at the symposium, Raja Nushirwan also thanked the frontliners and health workers.
“Truly, our countries and societies will never ever repay your sacrifices and commitment, ” he said.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Asean-China dialogue relations and the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Asean-China Centre (ACC) in Beijing.
ACC serves as a one-stop information and activities centre to promote cooperation in trade, investment, education, culture, tourism, information and media.
Over the decades, Asean and China have worked closely on international and regional issues.
Today, Asean is the middle Kingdom’s largest trading partner.