ASEAN should prepare for possibly extended campaign against Zika: PM Lee

Justin Ong Channel NewsAsia 6 Sep 16;

VIENTIANE, Laos: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Sep 6) urged the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) to join hands in fighting a possibly extended campaign against the Zika virus.

Speaking at the 28th ASEAN Summit plenary in Laos, Mr Lee said that Singapore has immediately stepped up measures since the number of locally transmitted cases jumped in just over a week to 258 as of Sep 5.

"It is imperative for us to work together to combat Zika, but we should put Zika in the proper context," said Mr Lee. "Given the presence of the Aedes mosquito, Zika may become endemic in our region, just like dengue."

"We should prepare ourselves for a possibly extended campaign against Zika but ensure that the region remains open and connected for business and trade."

He added that Singapore will work with ASEAN and the international community to combat the disease.

NEXT STEPS FOR HAZE; ASEAN

At the plenary Mr Lee also touched on the transboundary haze issue - stating that with all 10 ASEAN member states having ratified a joint agreement on haze pollution, as well as adopted a roadmap towards a "Haze‐Free ASEAN" by 2020, the next moves would be to fully operationalise both the ASEAN Haze Monitoring System and ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control.

"This will send a strong signal to the errant companies that have been causing the haze pollution," said Mr Lee.

He also spoke on the need to review, update and streamline ASEAN's processes - including for meetings and summits. Said Mr Lee: "I'm happy that Laos is holding the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits back‐to‐back in September this year.

"It has freed up the capacity for ASEAN to have two very good standalone Summits with the US and Russia," he added. "We should task our officials to follow through with concrete recommendations expeditiously."

Mr Lee also acknowledged that the Philippines - which will hold the ASEAN chairmanship in 2017 - had proposed a review of the ASEAN Charter. "It is a good idea, but we should be very careful in going about it," he stated.

ASEAN UNITY, CENTRALITY

At the opening of his speech Mr Lee also spoke on the importance of working on strengthening ASEAN "unity and centrality". Reiterating a point he made at Singapore's National Day Rally last month, he said: "As individual countries, our voice carries limited weight but collectively, with more than 600 million people speaking as one, we will have a louder voice and stronger bargaining power."

"It can be difficult for ASEAN to speak with one voice on issues where we have different positions but we must not let such differences divide us," he added. "If we are divided, we will lose our relevance and value to our partners."

Mr Lee concluded: "The ASEAN community will always be a work in progress but if we stay united and work together, we can overcome our challenges and prosper together."

- CNA/dt


PM Lee warns region to prepare for extended campaign against Zika
ALBERT WAI Today Online 6 Sep 16;

VIENTIANE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Sept 6) that South-east Asia should prepare for a “possibly extended campaign” against Zika, while taking steps to ensure that the regional economy is not affected.

“The Aedes mosquito is endemic in our region and Zika may also be endemic in our region, just like dengue,” said Mr Lee during the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) Summit plenary session in Vientiane.

“We should prepare ourselves for a possibly extended campaign against Zika but ensure that the region remains open and connected for business and trade.”

He said Singapore will work with countries in the region, as well as the international community, to combat the disease, which has affected some 275 people in the Republic.

Mr Lee noted that 72 countries and territories have reported evidence of mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission since 2007, including some in South-east Asia.

“Since the recent detection of locally transmitted cases in Singapore, we have undertaken necessary immediate measures, for example, stepping up testing, intensifying mosquito control, expanding public education, and advising on extra precautions for pregnant woman,” said Mr Lee, adding that the Republic’s efforts have been affirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO had stated that Zika transmission is present in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Malaysia has also announced Zika cases, including a man from Sabah who died over the weekend because of health complications.

In Thailand, the public health authorities have stepped up surveillance on the virus after reporting nearly 120 cases so far this year, compared with less than 10 annually previously.

Regional health experts believe Zika is significantly under-reported in South-east Asia as the authorities fail to conduct adequate screening and because of its usually mild symptoms.

A senior Indonesian official said this week that it cannot afford to thoroughly check for a possible Zika outbreak as it must focus on fighting dengue.

“At the moment, we cannot go out there and test everybody or every suspected case for Zika because it is too costly,” said Mr Muhamad Subuh, director-general for disease prevention and control at Indonesia’s Health Ministry. “There are other priorities, like dengue fever, which is more prevalent and more dangerous, and we have to allocate our resources accordingly.”

Mr Subuh said the ministry was actively monitoring for Zika, but experts said the authorities would struggle to identify patients as few hospitals offered Zika testing, and those that did expected patients to pay more than US$150 (S$203) for a test, putting it out of reach of many ordinary Indonesians.

“The biggest challenge right now is that we may miss Zika-infected patients because of the lack of facilities and testing,” said Dr Tedjo Sasmono, a scientist at Jakarta’s Eijkman Institute, one of only two facilities in Indonesia capable of diagnosing Zika. WITH AGENCIES

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