The PREPARE Project, led by International Medical Corps and funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), convened a high-level meeting in Singapore on pandemic preparedness with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat and the ASEAN-US Technical Assistance and Training Facility. The high-level multi-sectoral consultation, entitled Protecting ASEAN Member States from Pandemics, was held from February 27-29.
Since 2007, ASEAN has recognized that a multi‐sectoral response involving health and essential non‐health sectors is required in the event of a severe influenza pandemic. With outbreaks of H5N1 since 2003 in Southeast Asia serving as a lesson about the huge human and economic costs of influenza, the Singapore meeting signals a further level of commitment from ASEAN to prevent and mitigate a pandemic outbreak in the region.
Terming ASEAN’s preparedness activities “very impressive,” Dr. Ingo Neu, International Medical Corps’ Chief of Party for PREPARE, stated: “While not calling for investments into the stockpiling of medicines or vaccines that could go to waste without ever being used, ASEAN has made a very reasonable assessment of achievements gained with regards to multi-sector pandemic preparedness.” Dr. Neu added, “The conference in Singapore discussed remaining gaps and future opportunities to strengthen pandemic and multi-hazard disaster preparedness capacities within the region.”
International Medical Corps’s PREPARE project works to strengthen countries in the region through a “whole- of-society” approach to pandemic disaster preparedness. According to Dr. Noel Miranda, PREPARE’s Regional Advisor for Multisectoral Pandemic Preparedness and Response, “Whole-of-society planning enables us to cope with the severe impacts of pandemics, and under worst-case scenarios, enables us to survive disruptions in essential services. Families, communities, civil society, private groups and the military must be able to still come together should institutions break down.”
The meeting in Singapore covered pandemic impact on essential services, response planning, pandemic alert phases, and classifications of triggers and discussions on the regional framework of pandemic preparedness. Participants included representatives from ASEAN member states, the ASEAN Technical Working Group on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, the ASEAN Secretariat and donor agencies. The meeting marked the first of many events supported by PREPARE this year, including meetings with technical working groups in Southeast Asian countries in which participants develop or refine their own national plans.
“Following a great deal of frank discussion, we have generated a recommended regional framework that will rely on the use of regional resources before requesting assistance from others, and a set of next steps that each of us will be taking back to our respective countries,” said Dr. Emil Agustiono, Deputy Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare and Secretary of the National Commission for Zoonotic Control and Pandemic Preparedness in Indonesia.
PREPARE builds on previous USAID-funded programs to improve broader pandemic and disaster preparedness through simulations and training exercises that facilitate collaboration between civil society, the private sector and the government. In 2012, PREPARE will focus on activities in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the Philippines in Southeast Asia, as well as in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ghana in East and West Africa.