ASEAN-Australia-FAO strengthening regional coordination to avert pandemics of animal origin


27/10/2021 Jakarta, Indonesia

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for better coordination to address and minimise negative impacts of emerging infectious diseases. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is taking a step forward to ensure greater preparedness and resilience through stronger regional cooperation among its Member States and partners.

Pandemic lessons result to technical assistance project

With funding from the Australian Government, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)is helping ASEAN to strengthen regional mechanisms to address animal and zoonotic diseases with pandemic potential. ASEAN today announced the launching of the ASEAN-Australia-FAO regional technical assistance project during the forty-third ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) Meeting.

The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO RAP) will be implementing the AUD 2.9 million project through its Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases. The two-year project will streamline coordination for more effective regional pandemic responses and enhance animal health capacity building in the region.

“The Strengthening Mechanism in Animal-health for a Resilient ASEAN (SMART-ASEAN) project will improve regional mechanisms to prevent, early detect, and response to the animal and zoonotic diseases with pandemic potential,” said Indonesian Minister of Agriculture Dr. Syahrul Yasin Limpo, Chair of the 43rd AMAF Meeting. “Only with well-established coordination will the region be able to address disease threats,” he added.

Not a stranger to zoonotic diseases

The ASEAN region has had several disease outbreaks that are of animal origin or zoonotic. The Nipah virus in 1999 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. The zoonotic H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) since its emergence and spread in 2004 continues to remain sporadic in several countries.

These threats show that a dynamic and rapidly evolving zoonotic disease landscape continues to present a risk to food security, livelihoods, and public health – particularly in Southeast Asia, where substantial portions of the population are dependent upon livestock for nutrition and livelihoods.

ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Animal Health and Zoonoses

ASEAN Member Countries agreed to establish the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Animal Health and Zoonoses (ACCAHZ) in 2016. The agreement entered into force in September 2021 reinforcing ASEAN’s regional commitment to a collaborative approach in tackling future threats of zoonoses and managing related crises.

The SMART-ASEAN project will support ACCAHZ along with its other key priority areas in strengthening regional collaboration; preparation and response coordination to emerging infectious diseases; technical capacity for pandemic preparedness and response; and policy development of pandemic and zoonotic disease risk reduction.

Australian and FAO commitment to ASEAN

FAO Representative in Indonesia Rajendra Aryal spoke at the AMAF Meeting underscoring the importance of One Health approach to pre-empt future pandemics.

“The COVID-19 pandemic threatens food security and livelihood globally, including ASEAN. The food security of 135 million people is in crisis level or getting worse. It could be nearly doubled at the end of the year. We don’t want this to happen again,” said Arya. He encouraged ASEAN to work more collaboratively to address disease threats using a One Health approach. “Together with the Australian Government, FAO is committed to continue our collaboration with ASEAN in all capacities to foster the regional coordination needed to fight the animal and zoonotic diseases,” he added.

Counsellor at the Australian Mission to ASEAN, Jillian Ray, highlighted at the AMAF Meeting the importance of regional health security partnerships. “Australia is extremely pleased to be investing $2.9 million over the next two years to strengthen ASEAN mechanisms that prevent, detect and respond to zoonotic and animal diseases. This investment builds on Australia’s previous work with ASEAN to strengthen animal health, biosecurity, and food security in supply chains. This complements our near $1 billion in ODA to Southeast Asia this year, supporting health security, stability and economic recovery.”

 



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