Health ministers from Asia have agreed to boost stockpiles of medicines
because of the risk of a pandemic of the H1N1 flu virus. The agreement came after a meeting in Bangkok on increasing regional cooperation to fight the virus.
addition agreeing to stockpile antiviral medicines, the health
ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan
and South Korea on Friday said they would share medical supplies if
there is a flu pandemic.
Beijing will increase production of medicine
At the end of a health conference in
Bangkok, Chinese officials said Beijing will increase production of
medicines. Japan offered to send antiviral medicines and 750,000
protective suits for health care workers in the event of a flu outbreak
Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told the
meeting delegates that ensuring sufficient medical supplies remains a
problem for the region.
"We need cooperation in other new
aspects," he said. "For example, the development and production of
vaccines as well as antiviral drugs, as well as expansion and sharing
of ASEAN+3 and national stockpiles of medical supplies … with
access to these essential instruments in a thorough, adequate and
timely manner, which is a great challenge."
Most of the global production of vaccines is in the United States and Europe.
Asia must plan ahead
Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, said in a video link-up that Asia needed to plan well given
the damage a pandemic would have on the region.
virus is new we expect more people to be infected," he explained. "More people will
be susceptible; there will be more illness, more hospitalization and
therefore greater strain and impact on essential services. The bottom
line is that we believe that planning is essential."
of Asia is densely populated, and medical care in many countries is
inadequate. That means a flu pandemic could devastate the region.
authorities, however, praised Asia's disease-fighting preparedness,
which grew out of its experience with the H5N1 avian flu and the 2003
outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Warning against complacency
Officials at the
Bangkok meeting pointed to positive signs that despite the virus'
spread it may be less virulent than initially feared. But ASEAN
Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan cautioned against complacency.
we have shown our resolve that our health systems remain capable of
containing the spread of the disease, this is not the time to be
complacent. We cannot afford to let our guard down - a pandemic remains
a formidable challenge to our region," he said.
agreement also recommended against imposing travel restrictions to
fight flu, because they would be economically disruptive at a time when
Asian countries are struggling with the global economic downturn.