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PIA Press Release

RP chairs ASEAN health ministers' meeting on swine flu response

Manila (4 May) -- The Philippines will chair the meeting next week in Bangkok, Thailand of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) health ministers who will craft the region's collective response to the H1N1 influenza A strain (A/H1N1) or the swine influenza virus (SIV).

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the ASEAN health ministers' meeting will be held on May 8 (Friday) "as ASEAN member states raised their alert levels and put in place precautionary measures to address the outbreak."

The ASEAN's "Plus Three" dialogue partners -- China, Japan, and South Korea -- have been invited to the meeting, according to ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan who assured that "the ASEAN Secretariat is in full alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week to anticipate any request for the antiviral drugs by the member states."

The DFA said, "The Philippines, led by Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III, will preside over the meeting as the current chair of the ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting framework."

In a teleconference organized by the ASEAN Secretariat last April 30, ASEAN health experts stressed that harmonizing measures and initiatives is essential in the region's efforts to respond to the current outbreak of A/H1N1. Regular sharing of information among ASEAN would also be helpful to address the situation.

The DFA said that a Coordinating Center has been established by the ASEAN Secretariat "to monitor developments related to A/H1N1 in the region."

The center "is tasked to monitor and collate information on situational updates and precautionary measures taken by the ASEAN member states."

While no swine flu cases have been reported in Southeast Asia, measures have been put in place in the 10 ASEAN member countries "such as screening of arrivals from affected countries using thermal scanners and health declaration forms," according to the DFA.

Over the weekend, the "governments of Hong Kong and South Korea confirmed the first cases of A/H1N1 in Asia," DFA added.

The DFA said the ASEAN has created a system "to draw from the stockpile (of anti-viral drugs) in the event there is a pandemic."

In cooperation with Japan, ASEAN has a stockpile of 500,000 courses of antivirals (Tamiflu and Relenza) stockpiled in Singapore and an additional 500,000 courses have been distributed to ASEAN member states.

The DFA further said in its press release in its website "Moreover, ASEAN, together with the World Health Organization, held exercises in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to familiarize regional health officials and to ensure a most direct and efficient delivery of Tamiflu and Relenza to the requesting countries. Tamiflu and Relenza can be used to treat symptoms of swine influenza and to prevent disease among those who are infected or exposed to the virus." the foreign office said.

Earlier this week, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo directed concerned government agencies to pull all stops to prevent the entry of SIV into the Philippines.

Surveillance measures include thermal scanning at airports of passengers from countries with reported swine flu cases. (PIA) [top]

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