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Asean pledges to boost data-sharing on Zika

The health ministers of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) vowed this week to intensify information sharing and joint research on the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has infected scores of people in South-east Asia, following a teleconference discussion involving representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) on better preparedness and responses to the epidemic.

Asean pledges to boost data-sharing on Zika

A worker fumigates the area around a temple in Bangkok to control the spread of mosquitoes. Asean member states have agreed to intensify vector-control measures in their respective countries, as the best preventive move. Photo: Reuters

The health ministers of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) vowed this week to intensify information sharing and joint research on the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has infected scores of people in South-east Asia, following a teleconference discussion involving representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) on better preparedness and responses to the epidemic.

“We (Asean) have agreed to strengthen our existing regional risk-assessment mechanisms and make monitoring and detection fast and accurate,” Thai Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn told reporters after the teleconference, which his ministry hosted.

“We will share transparent information to help each other stop the virus from spreading,” he said.

In a joint statement of the Asean Health Ministers’ Special Video Conference, the member countries also agreed to intensify vector-control measures in their countries, as it is the best preventive move.

“Singapore and Thailand are using the same legal measures to order house owners to get rid of mosquito larvae, with a maximum fine imposed on the owners who fail to follow the rule,” Mr Piyakol said, adding that public participation is key to preventing the spread of the virus.

As part of plans to deal with health threats in the long run, Mr Piyakol said joint research between Asean members on the virus outbreaks would be carried out. However, he admitted that challenges remain.

“Conducting research on the Zika virus is complicated and costly. Thailand has spent over 20 million baht (S$783,600) in detecting the virus,” he said, adding that Thailand was also ready to provide assistance to other Asean nations.

The Public Health Minister of Myanmar said via teleconference his country would require help with lab tests from Thailand.

During the talks, each Asean minister shared details of his or her situation and experience in managing the virus.

Public health ministers from Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia have confirmed no one in their countries was suspected of having contracted the virus, but promised to keep a close eye out for possible infections.

The Zika strain associated with microcephaly — where babies are born with abnormally small heads or brain defects — and other neurological disorders has yet to be found in any Asean country, the ministers said.

Mr Takeshi Kasei, director of programme management for the Western Pacific at WHO was concerned about the “little knowledge” the public has about the virus.

“Despite the fact that Zika has long existed in South-east Asia, there are still unanswered questions and a knowledge gap regarding the virus among people,” he said.

South-east Asia is the world’s second-most Zika-affected region, according to Mr Takeshi.

Thailand recorded about 200 cases of Zika since January, while Singapore has 383 as at Sept 21 after reporting its first locally infected Zika patient on Aug 27.

Malaysia has six Zika cases after it reported its first case on Sept 1. To date, all three countries have found no cases of microcephaly linked to Zika.

Thailand is monitoring about two dozen pregnant women, and six have given birth with no complications, the health ministry said. BANGKOK POST

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