The ASEAN Health Ministers and senior officials reaffirmed the importance of regional health cooperation at the 15th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting and Related Meetings held in Bali, Indonesia from 14 to 15 May 2022.
2. ASEAN member states shared updates and exchanged views on strengthening health systems resilience in ASEAN and enhancing our collective preparedness and response to pandemics. The meeting also welcomed the operationalisation of the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED), which will enhance ASEAN’s capacity in prevention, detection and response to public health emergencies.
3. With ASEAN recovering from the pandemic and re-opening our borders to the world, it is important to establish seamless travel across the region, such as the use of digital technology to mutually recognise vaccination certificates across countries. The ASEAN Health Ministers and senior officials agreed to work towards an ASEAN Universal Verification Mechanism to facilitate smooth international travel, while protecting the data privacy and security of each ASEAN member state.
4. At the meetings, Minister for Health Mr Ong Ye Kung highlighted that ASEAN member states have managed to weather the COVID-19 pandemic because of their close cooperation. However, countries must remain vigilant and guard against complacency as lives return to normal across the region. In the coming few months, ASEAN member states are likely to see new waves as societal immunity wanes, or a new variant that drives re-infections.
5. To prepare for the new waves and a potential new virus, in his intervention delivered at the 15th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting, Minister Ong highlighted three main areas of focus:
a) Testing and surveillance: The establishment of ACPHEED forms the nucleus of a regular monitoring and good surveillance capabilities and response system in the ASEAN region. This will provide early warning of new COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC) and other emerging infectious diseases.
b) Availability of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics: We must continue our current efforts to vaccinate and boost our populations as immunity will wane over time and current vaccines will be less effective against the next VOC. Internally, ASEAN can collaborate better to ensure that vaccine supplies are available for those who need them, such as doing more to facilitate vaccine donations and swaps among countries.
c) Ensuring resilience of travel lanes and supply chains: As societies in ASEAN and our partner countries achieve stronger society resilience to COVID-19 virus, we should strive to ensure that even if new infection waves arrive, supply chains are not disrupted and immigration borders remain open. In this regard, the ASEAN mutual recognition system for vaccine certificates will be a critical tool. From there we can forge similar systems with other regions, such as the US, China, India and the EU.
6. During the trip, Minister Ong also held bilateral meetings with H.E. Budi G. Sadikin, Minister of Health, Republic of Indonesia and Chair of the 15th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting; H.E. Anutin Charnvirakul, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, Thailand; and H.E. Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohammad Isham bin Haji Jaafar, Minister of Health, Brunei Darussalam. The parties shared their experience in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and discussed future collaborations towards strengthening health systems for public health emergencies.
7. Singapore looks forward to continuing to work closely with ASEAN member states and dialogue partners to enhance regional public health preparedness and response, and strengthen health cooperation.
MINISTRY OF HEALTH
15 MAY 2022