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World Health Emergencies Lead to Regional Cooperation
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The rising number of health emergencies in Southeast Asia and the world formed the backdrop over the past two days for meetings involving health ministers and have promoted closer regional cooperation on the subject.  

Development of sustainable programs for Southeast Asian regional cooperation were sought during a meeting of health ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which took place on Wednesday. That was the first day of the two-day conference in Yangon, Myanmar. 

Titled "ASEAN Unity in Health Emergencies" the 8th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting was attended by more than 100 delegates from the 10-nation ASEAN and its dialogue partners -- China, Japan and South Korea (+3).

Witnessing the challenges of public health emergencies over the past two years such as the Tsunami caused by a seabed earthquake in December 2004, the spread of bird flu and the possible outbreak of a human influenza pandemic, the recent earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, which were beyond the means of affected countries to deal with, the meeting called for greater cooperation and coordination among nations as well as unity, solidarity and resilience in facing the challenges presented by health emergencies. 

The central theme of ASEAN+3 health ministers meeting which met on Thursday, the second day of the conference, was discussion on joint initiatives on dealing with health emergencies.  

At the conclusion of their second meeting the health ministers laid down the second phase strategic framework for their emerging infectious diseases (EID) program. 

The EID program's second phase activities would provide ASEAN+3 countries with greater opportunities to share and exchange information and experience and expertise in combating threats to the health and security of their people, according to a joint statement.

These activities would also bring the ASEAN+3 countries closer together in preparing for future threats of disease outbreak including those related to natural disasters, bio-terrorism and pandemic influenza. It would also facilitate partnerships among existing networks and experts on public and animal health, the statement said.

The ASEAN+3 health ministers reaffirmed their commitment to closer collaboration in addressing key priorities for health development policy coordination especially concerning international health regulations, it said.

The ASEAN+3 ministers also devised plans to mount a regional initiative which would bring together health, trade and other relevant policy-makers and stakeholders to discuss and develop consultative and inclusive multi-sector approaches for the integration of healthcare into development agendas, the statement added. 

The ASEAN+3 ministers agreed to ensure the momentum of cooperation continued through joint initiatives in 2006-07 to combat communicative diseases including HIV and EIDs and to assist in building up health-related human resources among others, said the statement. 

Following the ASEAN+3 meeting there was the first ever ASEAN-China health ministers meeting which was held to push ahead the cooperative ties on health issues between ASEAN and China.

The meeting discussed HIV/AIDS prevention and control, avian influenza and EIDs, traditional medicines and the operation of the ASEAN-China Public Health Fund.

China expressed a willingness to strengthen cooperation and actively develop effective and pragmatic cooperative programs in these areas.

China made a number of suggestions on establishing ASEAN-China epidemic prevention and control mechanisms and improving information exchange.

Also proposed by China was to use the ASEAN-China Public Health Fund to strengthen cooperation with ASEAN countries on public health and financial programs while welcoming proposals from ASEAN and giving positive consideration to funding them.

Observers here said the meetings would contribute to closer regional cooperation to meet the challenges of health emergencies, assist the economic development of the region and raise the living standards of people.

(Xinhua News Agency June 23, 2006)

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