CAMBODIA and other ASEAN member countries needed to look beyond the health sector in preparing for future pandemics, authorities said yesterday, during the opening ceremony of a workshop touted as a global first.
The five-day Southeast Asia Regional Multisectoral Pandemic Preparedness and Response Tabletop Exercise, which started in Phnom Penh yesterday, was expected to bring together around 170 high-level government, UN and civil society participants.
During a speech to open the event, ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan said it was important to develop preparedness plans that went beyond the scope and responsibilities of the health sector in order to mitigate the damage a pandemic could cause.
“A severe pandemic would require an emergency re-sponse beyond what the health sector is organised and able to provide,” he said.
Surin said a severe pandemic with high death rates “could lead to severe social and economic disruptions due to discontinuity of essential services, operations and businesses; in other words the breakdown, the meltdown, of entire societies”, and that it was realistic to expect and be prepared for such events.
“We are here today because we all realise that the occurrence of a devastating pandemic is not science fiction,” Surin said.
He saud seven additional sectors – food, energy, water and sanitation, telecommunications, finance, public security and public transportation – could all play key roles in the event of a pandemic.
Dr Pieter van Maaren, country representative for the World Health Organisation, said that in addition to developing a multi-sector response to pandemics, it was important to develop cooperation between ASEAN countries.
“A pandemic, by its nature, will affect all countries to a varying extent, and individual countries will respond to it as they see fit, but the response will be stronger if a regional coordination can support individual countries,” he said.
He said that the WHO had announced last week that globally the A(H1N1) virus, commonly known as swine flu, had entered its post-pandemic phase.
That does not mean swine flu has been eliminated: Figures from the Health Ministry’s Communicable Diseases Control Department show that the number of diagnosed cases continues to rise in the Kingdom, with 49 identified over the two-week period between July 29 and August 12.
As of August 12, a total of 740 cases had been diagnosed since the virus was first identified in the Kingdom in June last year.
Representatives from nine out of the 10 ASEAN member states were expected to participate in this week’s event, with delegates from Myanmar unable to attend because of administrative difficulties.