APEC seeks to balance health, economic policy

JAKARTA – Health ministers from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) members target to strengthen global and domestic preparedness for future pandemics through international and regional collaboration and partnerships to improve public health and wealth in the Asia-Pacific region.

Congregating in Bangkok for the APEC Health Week for their first physical meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the ministers commenced the two-day meeting with a high-level discussion on balancing health and the economy, according to a recent release issued by the 12th APEC High-Level Meeting on Health and the Economy.

“The lengthy lockdowns during Covid have led some economies to collapse, while the too-relaxed approach and negligence on health issues have also caused avoidable losses in some others,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health of Thailand Anutin Charnvirakul said.

Anutin led an initial discussion among six panelists: Health Minister of Singapore Ong Ye Kung, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services Andrea Palm, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Asean Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi, and Health Minister of Indonesia Budi Sadikin, who moderated.

Each panelist was invited to highlight the interconnection between health and wealth; expound on health challenges faced by the Asia-Pacific region; and share their insights, visions, and direct experiences in fighting the pandemic.

“The repercussions of the pandemic –its socioeconomic impacts on a broad range of sectors, including economic growth– required a multisectoral, whole-of-society approach to pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response and recovery,” Anutin said.

“We connect the dots between health and the economy, between governments and citizens, and between public and private sectors,” he added.

Sta Maria said over the course of the conversation that the business community was, in fact, quick to call for an official action when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic. Their concerns were focused on trade facilitation and resumption of travel.

“In response to the call by the business community, the officials proceeded to pivot and change,” she said.

Sta Maria said addressing the crisis took a “whole-of-APEC approach” considering that an effective response necessitated the manufacture and distribution of vaccines and other goods around the region.

“Trade policy and trade facilitation are not just the responsibility of trade policymakers but also customs and other entities in order to get the goods moving across borders,” she said. “Customs work on the best practice guidelines for APEC Customs Administration was crucial in facilitating the cross-border movement of essential goods and medical supplies.”

Anutin underlined the need to leverage the transfer of technology and knowledge and the exchange of pandemic response products to prepare Thailand and other economies for future pandemics.

“Vaccines and medical countermeasures need to be distributed equally to everyone within and across economies. This confirms the fact that no one is safe until everyone is safe,” he said.

Anutin, however, said one economy cannot alone achieve those goals. “We need international collaboration, especially with everyone in this forum. By working together more closely, once we reach that level, and we will be able to take on whatever may come,” he stressed.

APEC health ministers continue their discussions on Friday to reaffirm their commitments to balancing health and the economy and to investing more in health systems and health security to make the region better prepared for future pandemics. (Antara)