APEC Involvement in Preparing and Responding to Avian Influenza and Pandemic Health Threats

Bali, Indonesia, 27 March 2008
  • Speech by Ambassador Juan Carlos Capuñay, Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
First of all, I would like to thank the organizers for their kind invitation to participate in the 6th Annual International Bird Flu Summit. This meeting takes place at a particular moment for the Asia-Pacific region that has not only been affected by fluctuations in financial markets and drastic increases in energy prices, but also with some signs that the possibility of an influenza epidemic could be on the rise.
Emerging challenges such as pandemics, infectious diseases and natural disasters can all negatively affect the Asia-Pacific economy. APEC is working to mitigate those impacts. Today I would like to share with you some of the work in which APEC is involved, how it addresses those issues, and - more specifically - what projects APEC economies have undertaken to address the emerging health challenges we face today.
But first, let me tell you about APEC's broad scope of work and what APEC officials have done to address health issues in the region.
The APEC region has experienced tremendous gains since its formation in 1989. Our members account for around half of world trade, 41 per cent of world population and 57 per cent of world GDP. Yet over the last few years APEC economies have faced several significant shocks.  Threats to human security have affected both travel and trade. And APEC has faced health problems and natural disasters including SARS, bird flu, tsunamis and hurricanes.
In spite of these adverse factors, APEC's regional economy is quite robust and is capable of bouncing back even following quite significant challenges.
APEC's approach of voluntarism and consensus in developing best practice guidelines is a constructive and productive way of dealing with complex issues. It is moreover an approach that fits well culturally with Asian economies, and ensures the highest level of commitment to dealing with regional issues.
APEC's agenda is multi-faceted and comprehensive, and is strongly supported by the private sector through its business arm, the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). This is relevant since small and medium-sized enterprises make up 80 percent of regional production yet only account for 20 percent of intra-regional exports. Were a disruption in business to occur as a result of an outbreak, the regional economy could come to a stand-still. One of APEC's core activities includes assisting developing economies and their SMEs to compete more effectively in an increasingly globalized world.
Each year business, through the APEC CEO Summit, provides APEC's Leaders with recommendations aimed at assisting the private sector to be more competitive and efficient. This year's Leaders' meeting and CEO Summit will be held in Lima, Peru in November.
When SARS hit Asia in 2003 flights to Asia ebbed as business travelers terminated their trips. Trade was cut dramatically as concerns grew about the spread of an infectious disease to domestic locales. Then, avian influenza infected some APEC economies in 2004. Ministers and Leaders called for action.
In this respect, some specific measures were adopted. APEC Health Ministers created a task force at the beginning of 2004 to address health-related threats to economies' trade and security, focusing mainly on emerging infectious diseases. The group met on an ad hoc basis throughout 2004 and had its first formal meeting in 2005.
In 2006, Viet Nam called a ministerial-level meeting to directly address avian and influenza pandemics. Ministers endorsed the APEC Action Plan on the Prevention and Response to Avian and Influenza Pandemics and agreed that it was important for each economy to encourage timely and complete reporting of disease and implementation of appropriate disease control measures." Ministers also encouraged economies to "share reports on domestic measures to mitigate the negative effects of avian influenza."
When APEC Health Ministers met last year in Sydney they recognized that the process of globalization and economic integration, which delivers so many benefits to the region, also carries with it an increased capacity for the transmission of disease. Ministers indicated in their formal statement that the global nature of pandemic influenza and other virulent diseases demands international solidarity. This means cooperation and coordination of effort within an effective and transparent framework for the sharing of information and resources.
As a result, members endorsed an APEC initiative to prepare for and mitigate an influenza pandemic. Ministers went on to agree to work collectively to enhance capacity building for member economies so as to prevent an outbreak and control it should one occur.
As a concrete step, Ministers agreed that the task force should be given a mandate and endorsed the establishment of the Health Working Group in 2007.
In its first official meeting in Lima at the end of February, Peruvian Minister of Health, Hernan Garrido-Lecca, opened the meeting by underscoring how members can no longer turn a blind eye to other economies that undergo health-related problems. Indeed, globalization has brought a new dimension to our collective approach to health crises.
In Lima, members of APEC's Health Working Group agreed on their vision and work priorities. Combating the threat of avian influenza remains its top task. In a partnership framework, the group seeks to complement the work of other organizations within and outside APEC and across sectors of the economy. Work centers on its priorities to enhance preparedness for and response to public health threats, its fight against HIV/AIDS, and its goal to improve health outcomes through advances in information technology.
Members also examined the status of the projects that are currently underway. These APEC-funded projects are a critical part of the APEC process, turning into action APEC Ministers' and APEC Economic Leaders' specific policy direction. Projects cover a range of beneficial activities for the region, from establishing channels for information exchange to assisting businesses with trade and investment, to providing information technology training in developing economies.
Looking to minimize adverse impacts on human welfare, trade and investment, I would like to briefly discuss some of the projects that the Health Working Group has undertaken recently. To start, APEC economies met for a series of workshops around the period when APEC Leaders met in Sydney, Australia last year.
With strong attention to planning and prevention, APEC held a seminar to help provide a framework for assisting developing economies in making decisions about how to assess their domestic pandemic preparedness plans.
Shortly afterwards, APEC economies again came together for the Symposium on Functioning Economies in Times of Pandemic. The symposium discussed issues aimed at assisting APEC member economies to maintain economic activities and reduce business disruption in the event of an outbreak. A project such as this demonstrates how much attention APEC members pay to what many may consider "non-economic" issues.
Another capacity-building seminar aimed to assist economies to take effective domestic measures. As a result, participants increased their ability to share information and collaborate with health officials to minimize animal outbreaks. Lessons were also learned about the tools and resources needed to design and implement indemnity programs to promote domestic surveillance and eradication programs for trans-boundary animal diseases like avian influenza.
But to collaborate effectively, economies must communicate well. In 2006, APEC economies encouraged one another to develop communications strategies as part of pandemic preparedness planning. In particular, this workshop highlighted the importance and understanding of enhancing regional coordination through risk communication.
And to further build the skills of relevant personnel, another workshop was held in 2007 to help participants develop media relations skills and techniques that are consistent with risk communications principles. In APEC, we seek to build capacity from a multilateral perspective. These skills are necessary to effectively deal with international financial institutions and international media in anticipation of and during an avian or pandemic influenza outbreak which does not respect borders. The workshop also helped participants understand how to develop effective partnerships with the media in order to exchange accurate information on public health and animal husbandry practices.
As a way forward, a number of projects will also be completed in 2008. A follow-on activity to one of the major deliverables from the APEC SME Ministerial Meeting held last year, is a "Train the Trainer Workshop" proposed by the US. This will be held in a few days in Kaohsiung in the port city of Chinese Taipei. Participants will gain an increased understanding of the threat from an influenza pandemic and how SMEs can better plan and prepare for it. They will also be able to translate the course materials into appropriate communication tools. In the workshop, the APEC Pandemic Flu Planning Guide for SMEs will also be distributed. These guidelines are one such deliverable that will help SMEs in their continuity planning. (Please refer to ANNEX 1.)
To mitigate the impacts of an outbreak, APEC encourages continuity through the adoption of prevention policies and planning activities. In May 2008, a virtual symposium specifically focusing on partnerships and continuity planning for critical systems has been scheduled. In line with APEC's priority to enhance partnership, participants from the private and public sectors will gain a better understanding about how to cooperate and work effectively to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic.
A training Course for Rapid Response Teams is scheduled to take place in June 2008. The course is designed to build technical capacity with respect to monitoring, field investigation and emergency response. Ideally, information exchanged in the course will better equip the participants to handle a variety of regional scenarios that could occur.
In the area of risk communication, a project has been approved to develop an information platform for the avian influenza community which would aim to provide accurate and timely information. The platform will strengthen community empowerment and public risk awareness; promote community training and community capacity building, and reinforce knowledge sharing and risk communications domestically and regionally.
I would like to emphasize that starting in 2008 APEC economies will develop a common document which comprises their domestic measures to prevent, control and respond to avian influenza. APEC hopes that this collection will contribute to supporting various activities to combat avian influenza within and outside of APEC region. The matrix gathers each economies' measures to prevent against viruses' entrance; methods to prevent against infection (including bio security and husbandry standards); steps taken in case infected poultry is found (including case identification; reporting systems, containment measures, and compensation); and risk communication plans. A copy of this report has been submitted to the APEC Secretariat for its distribution.
Indeed, Ministers recognized that the APEC region continues to confront the emergence of the virulent H5N1 strain of Avian Influenza. The possibility of a pandemic arising from avian influenza presents a significant threat to human health security. And in their statement, APEC Health Ministers recognized that through concerted efforts, the international community can help to minimize this threat.
Undertaking this vast array of projects across the region helps member economies remain vigilant. Members regularly share information and continue the multi-sectoral dialogue among member economies, with the business community and with multilateral organizations and donors.
Thank you.