Prioritizing health emergency preparedness in Southeast Asia

Published: 5 December 2014 4:40 CET

By Kate Roux, IFRC 

While the Ebola virus is being urgently addressed in West Africa, Southeast Asia remains no less vulnerable to potential influenza pandemics and public health emergencies than any other part of the world. When a health emergency strikes – such as Ebola, or avian influenza H5N1 – it requires an effective and coordinated response. Time is a critical factor that can make the difference between life or death.

National Societies in Southeast Asia place a priority on preparing for health emergencies, and this was reflected in a recent workshop jointly hosted by the Singapore Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) South-East Asia regional delegation. The workshop, covering ‘pandemic and public health emergencies’, was held from 17-20 November 2014 in Singapore.

“Our auxiliary status is critical at times such as this,” said Anne E. Leclerc, head of the IFRC Southeast Asia regional delegation. “With both government representatives and external partners here, National Societies can further strengthen their preparatory measures to prepare for future health emergencies.”

Government health representatives and partner organizations from nine countries in the region joined their respective National Societies. Participants reaffirmed their readiness to work together at a national and regional level for pandemic preparedness, while also aiming to strengthen work with regional partners such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the Asian Development Bank.

An initiative of senior leadership of National Societies in the region, the workshop reviewed the range of preparedness and response efforts undertaken in the last few years – when the world was preparing for a potential pandemic triggered by avian influenza H5N1 and responded to influenza pandemic H1N1 – and the measures that still need to be taken. It reflected initiatives to strengthen epidemic preparedness at community and National Society levels through the roll out of the Epidemic Control for Volunteers (ECV) toolkit, while also learning from the experience of the IFRC response to the Ebola crisis.  

The main outcome was the preliminary outline of an ‘IFRC Roadmap for Regional Cooperation on Pandemic and Public Health Emergency Preparedness.’ Further recommendations will be presented at the Southeast Asia Red Cross Red Crescent Leaders meeting in February 2015 along with discussions on the priority action for contingency plans for pandemics and health emergencies.

“This workshop gave National Societies and their partners a unique opportunity to identify areas to strengthen existing pandemic contingency plans of National Societies, as well as community continuity of essential services,” said Jim Catampongan, Head of health for the IFRC in Asia Pacific. “The time to prepare is now – not when a health emergency strikes.”

For further information please contact Jim Catampongan at the IFRC Asia Pacific zone office or Abhishek Rimal at the IFRC South-East Asia regional delegation.