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Monday, June 22, 2015

MERS Outbreak and APEC Health Cooperation

Tzu-ying Chen


         An outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) has affected South Korea since May this year. As of June 10th , there had already been 108 cases and caused 9 deaths in South Korea. In order to stop the spread of MERS, the Korean government temporarily shut down more than 2,208 schools and kindergartens. Despite the World Health Organization has not issued a travel advisory against travel to Korea, the tourism industry in Korea has still been hit by MERS. The Korea Tourism Organization has estimated that more than 20,000 tourists have cancelled plans to visit Korea in July and August, which is at a time for the summer peak season.

        In addition, the MERS crisis also threatens Korea's local industries. Korea's fashion and cosmetics industries have lost their customers mostly come from China which altogether comprises about 30 percent of global luxury consumption. Before the MERS epidemic, it is predicted that 7.2 million Chinese tourists will visit Korea this year, which is half of a total estimated 15.5 million foreign visitors. However, MERS has slowdown the number of travelers and reduces the domestic consumption as well. Even though Korean retails would survive by depending on local consumption, Koreans are choosing to avoid populated outdoor areas for fear of becoming contaminated.

        In order to prevent the spread of emerging infectious diseases, APEC members have been paying attention on the impact of emerging infectious diseases on economy and trade activities since the SARS outbreaks in 2003. To monitor the epidemic situation, APEC-Emerging Infections Network (EINet) has been established for providing timely and reliable information via the internet of emerging infectious diseases in the Asia-Pacific region. However , the function of the surveillance system is constrained for stopping the spread of emerging infectious diseases which come after rapidly since 2003.

        APEC economic Leaders responded on the issue of the emerging infectious diseases and reaffirmed their commitment to build regional capacity for these potential threats of human health in 2009. APEC economic leaders recognized the significance of health security for economic and trade activities in the region. In addition, they also committed to improve secure growth by strengthening preparedness for and effective management of emerging and re-emerging infectious disease.

        In response to the commitment, APEC economic leaders instructed Senior Officials to foster enhanced cooperation and coordination within APEC to reduce threats and disruption to business and trade, including directing relevant sub-fora to cooperate in developing a consolidated strategy on health security. Senior Officials were also expected to collaborate with industry, academia and international organizations for preparedness against emergencies. Furthermore, Senior Officials were responsible for supervising their own economies to develop appropriate procedures for public reporting on their progress in implementing APEC Leaders' commitments on secure growth.

        In response to the commitment, APEC economic leaders instructed Senior Officials to foster enhanced cooperation and coordination within APEC to reduce threats and disruption to business and trade, including directing relevant sub-fora to cooperate in developing a consolidated strategy on health security. Senior Officials were also expected to collaborate with industry, academia and international organizations for preparedness against emergencies. Furthermore, Senior Officials were responsible for supervising their own economies to develop appropriate procedures for public reporting on their progress in implementing APEC Leaders' commitments on secure growth.

        To develop more "APEC way's" health issues which means reducing the impact of the health threats on economic and trade activities and not duplicating the work of the World Health Organization (WHO). China addressed an initiative of "Healthy Asia Pacific 2020" 6 in 2014, which promoted APEC economies focus on the issues of health and economy such as prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, strengthening universal health coverage and improving health emergency preparedness as well. Particularly, implementing multi-sectoral action in health through "Health in All Policies" and a "Whole-Government" approach was encouraged in this initiative.

        Regard to the MERS outbreak in Korea, there are several suggestions for APEC economies to take actions. Firstly, APEC should continue to support its work on surveillance and timely information exchange for noticing in APEC members. Secondly, APEC economies should enhance their capacity building by drawing lessons among APEC economies through the implemented APEC projects. For the MERS outbreak this year, APEC economies have learned lessons from SARS experiences in 2003 through participating in the APEC conference for memorizing the SARS epidemic 10 years ago conducted by Chinese Taipei in 2013. Lastly, APEC members should consider how to use the "Health in All Policies" and "Whole-Government" approach for multisectoral cooperation. Since the spread of disease affects not only health sector but also other sectors, how to prevent the epidemic should be of concern in every policies and decisions made by the government. In addition, APEC should also facilitate the cooperation between Health and Emergency Preparedness Working Groups to jointly confront the threats and share resources and information.

        Last year, APEC Leaders committed to intensify the cooperation with African nations to confront the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic. The political commitments brought much attention and substantial contribution from APEC economies. This year, APEC members are confronting the MERS outbreak in the Asia-Pacific region. APEC should do more than commitments to prevent the spread of the disease.

References:


1.2009 Leaders' Declaration, Singapore Declaration – Sustaining Growth, Connecting the Region. 14-15 Nov 2009.
2.The APEC Leaders' Growth Strategy, 14 Nov 2010.
3.China, Concept Note for Public Risk Communication and Rumors Surveillance: Building Capacity in Health Hotline Response to Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Public Health Issues. 2013/SOM3/HWG/008.
4.Singapore, Concept Note on Building Capacity in Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2013/SOM3/HWG/019.
5.China, Healthy Asia Pacific 2020, 2014/SOM3/HWG/009. 1.2009 Leaders' Declaration, Singapore Declaration – Sustaining Growth, Connecting the Region. 14-15 Nov 2009



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