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Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University
Professor Teo Yik Ying, Dean, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore
Professor Kumar Ramakrishna, Dean, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University
Professor Tom Inglesby, Director, Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, Bloomberg School of Public Health
Professor Hsu Li Yang, Director for the Asia Centre for Health Security
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
1.      Good evening. It is my pleasure to join you at the launch of the Asia Centre for Health Security. 
2.      In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been growing local and international recognition of the importance of global health security. It is widely agreed that there is an urgent need to thoroughly assess and reform the architecture for global health emergency preparedness, response and resilience. Additionally, there have been calls to enhance international cooperation and collective action against new and complex health challenges more effectively.
3.      The risk of outbreaks has been steadily increasing due to various factors such as climate change, population growth in both animals and humans, and closer proximity to wildlife in urbanised areas. These factors elevate the risk of animal viruses spilling over to humans. Human activities like urbanisation, which increases contact between animals and humans, may also heighten this risk. Globalisation, including an increasing number of air links and travel volume, leads to a more rapid spread of pathogens across borders, and less time to respond. 
4.      As such, COVID-19 will not be our last pandemic or health emergency. In the past few decades, Singapore has experienced several emerging infectious disease outbreaks, including Nipah in 1999, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, pandemic influenza A (H1N1) in 2009, and Zika in 2016. Furthermore, novel infectious diseases continue to emerge in many parts of the world, with sporadic outbreaks of avian influenza, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Ebola that pose a risk of global spread. Antimicrobial resistance is also on the rise as a silent pandemic with potentially deadly consequences. As a global community, we need to be better prepared to respond to these ongoing and emerging threats.
5.      With its extensive biodiversity alongside dense metropolises, and increasing encroachment into animal habitats, Asia is vulnerable to health security threats. As an international travel hub with a high population density, Singapore is particularly vulnerable to imported and local transmission of novel infectious diseases and the re-emergence of established ones. 
6.      We have all now seen that the impact of health emergencies can be vast, from our experience with COVID-19. It extends beyond the loss of human lives, potentially incurring high economic and social costs. In Singapore, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected multiple sectors, leading to a 5.4% decline in the country’s GDP in 2020. In our response, Singapore set aside $72.3 billion across three years, in part to support measures for workers and businesses, as well as providing direct household and social support. It is evident that investing in health emergency preparedness and health security is cost-effective in the long run.
7.      Past epidemics have helped shaped Singapore’s public health response to emerging infectious diseases. Singapore learnt from SARS and established the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) in 2019, housing clinical services, public health functions, teaching and training, research, and community outreach under one roof. This cross-disciplinary integration was aimed at preparing for and responding efficiently and swiftly to the next outbreak. It has helped strengthen Singapore’s capacity and capability in disease prevention, detection and case management and response. 
8.      In reflecting on lessons from COVID-19, we have started to take the necessary steps to further fortify our readiness against future infectious disease outbreaks in Singapore. One key move is to establish the Communicable Disease Agency (CDA). The CDA will consolidate functions currently spread across multiple agencies in Singapore today. It would oversee a full range of activities from policy and system development, preparedness as well as disease prevention and control to surveillance, risk assessment and outbreak response. This allows the Government to quickly respond to disease outbreaks as one concerted public health effort. 
9.      The CDA would not be alone in this effort. It cannot be, given what we know about infectious diseases and how they emerge and spread. In 2012, Singapore established its One Health Framework, with a transdisciplinary, multi-agency workgroup integrating One Health efforts across human, animal, water and environment health sectors. There are five agencies involved today. Aside from the Ministry of Health (MOH), there is the National Environment Agency, National Parks Board, Singapore Food Agency and PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency. Since the establishment of the framework, One Health agencies have made significant progress in developing joint response protocols for priority diseases, training and capacity building, risk communications and integrated surveillance. 
10.      We have also been investing in Research & Development to further strengthen Singapore’s pandemic research capabilities. One example is the Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Response, PREPARE in short. It was set up in 2022 to strengthen Singapore’s pandemic research capabilities for developing tools, methods, and products to respond to future disease threats.
11.      Looking beyond our borders, there has been an increasing recognition that the international community needs to strengthen its mechanisms and support for one another, to bolster our global commons of preparedness and response against future pandemics. This includes amending and implementing the international health regulations and discussions on a “Pandemic Treaty”. 
12.      Singapore remains committed to strengthening global health security and cooperation. This includes collaborating with international partners such as the World Health Organization, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as other governments and key public health counterparts through the regular exchanges of information and the sharing of good practices, challenges and opportunities. This strengthens our collective resilience against future pandemics. 
13.      In 2022, Singapore hosted the Global Health Security Conference, bringing together leaders, researchers, policymakers, international organisations, civil society, and private industry from around the world. With many countries recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, it allowed for robust discussions on the latest research and policy innovations, and forward-looking solutions towards making the world a safer and healthier place.
14.      All this brings us to why we are together tonight: the official start of the Asia Centre for Health Security (ACHS). ACHS would be a useful complement to the evolving public health ecosystem in Singapore and in the region as well as the region’s push for improved health security. As a new academic thinktank in Asia, created through generous philanthropic support, it would help address existing gaps and boost ongoing efforts in the region to prepare and prevent global catastrophic biological threats.
15.      With its multidisciplinary team of experienced and prominent leaders with a broad range of skillsets and expertise, from public health and clinical practice to global health law and policy making, ACHS is well placed for the work ahead. In Singapore, the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies would also be able to provide good support to the centre’s work. It would contribute to global conversations as thought leaders and build expertise and capabilities to strengthen regional preparedness for biological threats. 
16.      The early years of any new institution would be both challenging and exciting. I hope that the activities planned by ACHS in coming years would lay the foundation for a sustainable and vital setup that would significantly contribute to an Asia that is prepared for biological threats of the future. The teams working on pandemic preparedness and health security at both MOH and the future CDA are looking forward to working closely with ACHS. 
17.      The next pandemic is not a matter of if, but when. We need to work together to safeguard against unpredictable biological threats and protect the wellbeing of future generations. Only by doing so, can we create a more resilient and prepared Singapore, Asia and world.
18.      I thank you and wish everyone a very good dinner and evening ahead. Thank you very much.

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