Meeting of the Bi-regional Technical Advisory Group on the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies (APSED III): Advancing Implementation of the IHR (2005)

19 June 2018, New Delhi, India

Representatives from Member States across the Asia Pacific, esteemed partners, WHO colleagues,

Good morning and a very warm welcome to New Delhi.

The Asia Pacific region faces acute threats to public health.

Threats from emerging infectious diseases such as nipah virus, avian influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Threats from natural hazards such as earthquakes, cyclones, floods, tsunamis and volcanoes.

And threats from newer risks such as antimicrobial resistance or even chemical and radiological emergencies.

The impact these threats can have on individuals and communities is immense. As we mark a centenary since the 1918 flu pandemic – the twentieth century’s single largest killer – the need to prepare for, mitigate and respond to these threats could not be more urgent.

But you already know that: That is why each of you – each of us – has been working with steadfast resolve for many years to strengthen core capacities for risk reduction, preparedness, event detection and response across the Asia Pacific.

As we all appreciate, the International Health Regulations – developed by and for Member States – provide the legal mandate for our mission. The Regulations are binding on each of the world’s 196 countries, including all WHO Member States. They are the metric by which our efforts must be measured, and to which our ambition must be fixed.

In attaining IHR compliance, WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme is critical, and is driving progress across the Asia Pacific and beyond. Importantly, however, it is a tool that for the most part aligns with and works within pre-existing frameworks, including the focus of this meeting: the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies, or APSED III.

The evolution of this bi-regional strategic framework is noteworthy.

When in 2006 this Technical Advisory Group was first formed – then known simply as the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases, or APSED – its purpose was singular: to help implement and strengthen IHR core capacities across the Asia Pacific.

But while APSED III maintains the original, generic approach to all-hazard preparedness and response, it does so within a broader framework. That framework includes the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and their emphasis on achieving universal health coverage, the Global Health Security Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

APSED’s evolution – both in design and intent – represents the development of a principle worth emphasizing: that well-functioning health systems are vital to health security. Indeed, that confining health security to a vertically aligned silo is counterproductive, and that we must instead pursue a ‘third way’ that is more integrated, effective and avoids duplication.

This principle is core to WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, as well as the Thirteenth general programme of work, or GPW13. It has also been accepted and promoted more broadly within and across the global health community, including among partners.

That includes Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – a longtime APSED supporter – and its new Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific, which emphasizes the central importance of strong health systems in enhancing health security. It also includes the US Centers for Disease Prevention and Control and the US Department of Health and Human Services – both of them steadfast supporters for many years of regional initiatives that reflect these principles.

The World Bank is likewise increasingly focused on how strong health systems reinforce health security, increase productivity, and save billions of dollars in the long run. The Asian Development Bank specifically noted the need to expand health coverage and fortify health security in the Greater Mekong Subregion as part of a Regional Investment Strategy developed alongside key partners in Hanoi earlier this year.

In noting this critical mass – this vital consensus that holds health systems strengthening and health security as inherently complementary – I truly believe we have turned a corner.

Distinguished representatives and colleagues,

Beyond reinforcing and welcoming this evolution, especially as it relates to this meeting, I also want to emphasize another point, and that is the essential function monitoring and evaluation performs in achieving IHR compliance. To that end, we have the IHR Monitoring and Evaluation Framework at our disposal.

The Framework has four components: first, the production of an annual report; second, the carrying out of after-action reviews; third, the design and implementation of emergency exercises; and fourth, the undertaking of a joint external evaluation, or JEE.

Importantly, the JEE provides an objective assessment of a country’s capacities, including by assessing existing policies, strategies and operational documents, with a view to shoring up the country’s health system and its contribution to health security. In the last two years, 15 countries across the Asia Pacific have completed JEE missions. Several JEEs are currently underway. Significantly, after each and every JEE, recommendations on how best to integrate health system and health security strengthening are made by key stakeholders, allowing countries to prioritize interventions accordingly.

To facilitate this, the launch of a costing tool earlier this year will help Member States develop National Action Plans on Health Security that can be effectively financed. That is especially important in the context of WHO’s five year global strategic plan to improve IHR core capacities, emergency preparedness and response, as well as GPW13. Notably, this meeting provides colleagues a vital opportunity to brief Member States on these strategies and plans and how they affect WHO's work on outbreaks and emergencies.

Beyond this, our objectives over the coming days are clear: to review emerging issues and the progress made in implementing APSED III; to review JEE experiences, as well as challenges and progress in the development, implementation and financing of National Action Plans on Health Security; and to recommend common priority activities to be carried out before the next bi-regional meeting is held in 2020.

I am confident all participants will contribute their utmost to achieving these objectives. Given the range of threats to public health the Asia Pacific faces – some new, many old, all deadly – failure to fortify health security is not an option. Full IHR compliance is a moral, legal and professional imperative.

Thank you.