Health ministers set due date for regional infectious disease centre . . .
Last Sunday, health ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced the establishment of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED) by September of this year. Likened to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proposed ACPHEED structure comprises three pillars: detection, surveillance, and response and risk management. Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam will each host ACPHEED facilities. Though funding details for the new body have not been confirmed, Japan has pledged C$64 million for its operationalization. ASEAN member states have been working on ACPHEED since the idea was adopted in ASEAN’s 2020 Strategic Framework for Public Health Emergencies.
Belated plans to revitalize regional connectivity . . .
In addition to ACPHEED, the health ministers also committed to establishing an ASEAN Universal Verification Mechanism allowing member states to recognize each other’s COVID-19 vaccine certificates. Their statement was echoed on Tuesday by ASEAN transport ministers, who announced their intention to develop a single aviation market for the 10-member bloc and synchronize public health measures on flights. These announcements follow more than a year of stalled attempts to launch an ASEAN COVID-19 travel corridor, first proposed in November 2020. Since then, ASEAN states have prioritized travel arrangements with countries beyond Southeast Asia, with numbers of in-region flights only recently rebounding after many ASEAN states dropped testing requirements for arriving passengers. However, a regional vaccine verification system could reduce hassles for intra-regional travel and contribute to revitalizing business and tourist activity.
Deepening public health co-operation in ASEAN . . .
Though ACPHEED represents a significant step toward regional public health co-operation, the proof will be in the implementation. ASEAN’s consensus decision-making style and the disparate health care capacities and needs among member states could pose challenges for ACPHEED’s future development. However, existing ASEAN public health mechanisms, some of which have been funded by Canada, played an underappreciated role in ASEAN’s initial rapid response to COVID-19. The pandemic and other crises, such as the Myanmar coup, have tested the bloc but have also resulted in an explosion of new initiatives and frameworks. This accelerating momentum for regional institutionalization in Southeast Asia could be an opportunity for Canada and other countries to further engage and support ASEAN on public health action.
- Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada: Towards an ecosystem approach: COVID-19, Canada-Asia relations, and international organizations
- Channel NewsAsia: ASEAN to work towards mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates to facilitate smooth travel
- The Jakarta Post: ASEAN to set up regional public health agency