Asia-Pacific nations must ramp up cooperation in health sector – UN official

18 March 2010

Countries in the Asia-Pacific region must step up their cooperation to tackle the threat of highly infectious diseases – including H1N1 – crossing borders, a senior United Nations official said today.

“No matter how strong and effective the health system of one country, there is no guarantee that it would provide protection from pandemics [such as SARS and avian influenza] if your neighbours are exposed,” said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

“It is no longer possible to safeguard your health without helping your neighbours do the same,” she said in her address to a conference taking place in Singapore on the theme, “Strengthening Health and Non-Health Response Systems in Asia.”

Ms. Heyzer urged nations to increase investment in addressing structural issues in public health infrastructures and to broaden their provision of medical supplies, including vaccines.

It is also vital, she said, to attend to problems that make people sick and in need of medical care in the first place.

Foreign policy can greatly impact health, she pointed out. For example, trade policies can alter a nation’s ability to produce affordable drugs or influence the flow of health workers from one country to another.

“Countries which have stronger health systems will need to work closely with the weaker countries to ensure that levels of investment in health increase, the number and quality of health workers improve and that the overall capacity of health systems to deal with infectious diseases is of the same level,” the official said.

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