Preparing for the Next Pandemic

Singapore, 27 April 2020
  • Dr Denis Hew

APEC economies need to develop a pandemic planning and policy toolkit

COVID-19 has underscored the need to develop a preparedness toolkit that will identify essential health measures as well as policy actions that economies should employ immediately and during different phases of a pandemic.

Throughout the first months of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly evolved from a public health emergency to an economic crisis. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently forecast that the global economy will be in deep recession in 2020.

APEC economies have countered with containment measures to save lives and macroeconomic policy measures to support health systems, households, and businesses, including MSMEs. The region’s swift and significant macroeconomic support is evidence that APEC economies have learned from past episodes of crisis affecting the region, including the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the 2008–2009 Global Financial Crisis.

In June 2007, APEC established the Health Working Group (HWG) to underscore the importance of continuing dialogue on health policy across the region, in line with APEC’s view that good health policy is also good economic policy.

In June 2014, Health Ministers from APEC economies formulated a “Healthy Asia-Pacific 2020” initiative to develop sustainable and high-performing health systems that support universal coverage and health preparedness, surveillance, and response and recovery systems.

APEC must also learn from this crisis. Just as it prepares for an economic and financial crisis, the APEC region should also stand ready to counter the ill effects of any pandemic. To do that, APEC economies need to work together to develop a pandemic planning and policy toolkit. This toolkit should be reflective of APEC economies’ different levels of capacity for health emergency planning and should be participative in nature, predicated on the active engagement of a dedicated body that is composed by representatives from relevant government agencies, private organizations, and the community.

Combining information from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “A Checklist for pandemic influenza risk and management impact” (2018 update) and lessons learned so far in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the APEC Policy Support Unit (PSU) came up with a list of essential and desirable elements for pandemic planning (see below or click here to download the list). The “essential” factors are the minimum elements that economies need to do; while the “desirable” factors are those that could be incorporated in the pandemic planning toolkit when resources allow.

The checklist is not exhaustive or comprehensive, instead, it serves as a starting point to guide economies as they discuss further what is available, appropriate and feasible for their respective economies and for the region as a whole.

The APEC Health Working Group, together with the 21 APEC members, will need to determine the minimum standards and priority actions based on their experiences and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that 40 percent of infected cases are coming from this region, it would be imperative for APEC policymakers to develop this checklist into a regional policy toolkit to address this current global pandemic and prepare for any future large-scale outbreaks.

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Dr Hew is the Director of the APEC Policy Support Unit.

Click here to download this checklist