Call for ASEAN-US cooperation to fight COVID-19

James Kon

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar has proposed the establishment of an appropriate reporting structure which would enable ASEAN and the United States (US) to cooperate systematically, exchange knowledge, ideas, best practices and sourcing as well as to obtain medical supplies and equipment for COVID-19.

The minister made these comments during a special video conference between Health Ministers of ASEAN and the US in enhancing cooperation on COVID-19 response on
April 30.

The minister also recalled the country’s efforts in successfully containing the COVID-19.

He said, “Since our first case on March 9, we have reported 138 cases and one death from COVID-19 in the country with 124 recovered. Similar to some countries in the region, we have implemented various measures to contain the threat of COVID-19 which among others include contact tracing for confirmed cases, combined with quarantine, isolation and self-monitoring arrangements, as well as prohibiting mass gatherings, suspending schools and certain activities, restricting travel to and from the country.”

The minister said although the situation in Brunei has been brought under control, the country is still facing challenges from COVID-19.

“First, our analysis indicates that more than 30 per cent of our cases are asymptomatic and remain asymptomatic throughout the course of their disease,” Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham said.

Case investigation, he said, “also reveals that asymptomatic transmission does occur. We have observed this in the household and school settings.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar and officials during the special video conference of Health Ministers of ASEAN and the United States on Enhancing Cooperation on Covid-19 Response. PHOTO: MOH

“Our findings highlight the possibility of silent transmission which further emphasise the importance of contact tracing and testing as part of outbreak control measures regardless of symptoms. Every individual tested positive for COVID-19 is admitted to the National Isolation Centre for investigation and treatment.”

The minister expressed concern about recovered patients who tested positive again urged for more research.

He said, “We have also found that 21 out of 124 recovered individuals tested positive again after being discharged. This has forced us to review our policy and the seven-day isolation period of the recovered patients has been extended to 14 days. Similar to findings in other countries our analysis has also indicated that none of the close contacts have been infected. However, further research and collaboration is urgently needed to help better manage the cases and optimise the use of resources.

“As we are managing our healthcare system to stay afloat, we are facing delays and other logistical disruptions in attaining essential medicine, medical supplies and medical equipment.”

Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham said many countries are facing an increased demand for medication related to supportive treatment of COVID-19 and other medical consumables.

He said it has been difficult to obtain these due to limited flights and lockdowns but also the rising prices of these items from suppliers.

Looking forward to ASEAN-US Health Cooperation, Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham suggested that “we should look into the existing ASEAN health sector mechanism and consider to establish an appropriate reporting structure which would enable ASEAN and US to cooperate systematically”.

“We must also ensure that the free exchange of knowledge, ideas, and best practices continue between the US and ASEAN. Regional initiatives in data sharing and clinical and public health research collaboration should be enhanced and the outcomes disseminated to support and learn from each other.

“We need to work together in sourcing as well as to obtain medical supplies and equipment for COVID-19 according to the needs or requirement of each country, where possible. It is imperative for us to help each other to ensure the production of medical supplies including vaccines, and medical equipment are unhindered and supply chains remain open and connected, as well as to keep prices stable.”

Indonesia’s Minister of Health Lt General (Rtd) Terawan Agus Putranto and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar as the co-chair of the meeting officially opened the special video conference among Health Ministers of ASEAN and the United States on Enhancing Cooperation on Covid-19 Response.

The virtual meeting concluded with Health Ministers of ASEAN and the US vowing to further enhance cooperation on COVID-19 response.