Pandemics as threats to regional and national security

Dr Sara Davies recently attended the High-Level Cross-Sectoral Consultation on Pandemics as Threats to Regional and National Security conference. The conference was held in Manila on January 9th to 11th.

The conference looked at how the modern, globalized economy reflects one, complex, interconnected, and interdependent socio-economic system. There is growing international awareness that this globalized system is fundamentally vulnerable to large-scale disasters that can disrupt the critical infrastructure and services essential to the functioning of society. Severe pandemics represent one of the principal threats to the functioning of this complex system at all levels— local, national, regional, and global.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is currently developing a regional pandemic preparedness and response framework for a coordinated, multi-sectoral system to mitigate the impact of severe pandemics and other major disasters with potential to disrupt the integrity and functionality of essential services and critical infrastructure throughout the region. The conference provided an important opportunity for an evidence-based analytic exchange of views involving multiple sectors and international stakeholders within the perspective of severe pandemics as fundamental threats to national, regional, and global security. The meeting also provided a comparative platform for the presentation of the regional pandemic preparedness frameworks from two other important regions of the world: North America (U.S. Canada, and Mexico); and, separately, the European Union. Finally, the occasion fostered valuable expert discussion and inputs to inform the ongoing development of the ASEAN regional framework on pandemic preparedness and response.

Of particular interest was shared concern that post-H1N1 ‘Swine Flu’ in 2009, there is global apathy towards the risk of an influenza pandemic and the need to prepare the public for this risk. The threat of an influenza pandemic remains very real and has the ability to cause major socio-economic issues both on a local and global scale; moreover, preparation for such events can be important sources of resilience for the government, private business and the public in the event of any emergency (disaster, manmade or biohazard). Yet ensuring that this ongoing financial and political investment in risk resilience is difficult to achieve when there are immediate health problems — especially in low income countries — that require funding and political attention now. Should pandemic preparedness be a high priority concern for low and middle income countries? How can pandemic preparedness and response be incorporated with the pressing endemic health issues like dengue outbreaks, rise of drug resistant TB and maternal mortality? What would it take to maintain interest in global pandemics without creating mass hysteria or apathy?

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