For the next two years, Brunei will assume the chairmanship within ASEAN for the Senior Officials Meeting on Health Development and the ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting.
With the official handing over of the chairmanship from Vietnam to Brunei at the 11th Senior Officials Meeting on Health Development (SOMHD) and Other Related Meetings held from August 9 to 11, the tiny oil-rich sultanate will lead regional deliberations on health issues.
With the handover complete, officials have begun to outline what they see as the country’s priorities for the next two years.
In her speech following the handover, Maslina Mohsin, the deputy permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, said that Brunei would look to build on discussions on issues and challenges from the 12th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting (AHMM) held in Vietnam in 2014, including ensuring food safety, responding to hazards and emerging threats, and strengthening health systems and access to care. The next AHMM will be held in Brunei in 2017.
But she also added that while the knowledge needed to promote health and control and eradicate disease is not lacking, operationalizing these principles was the challenge.
“[O]perationalizing these principles into a successful integrated program that is well-resourced, multi-sectoral, sustainable and has the cooperation of the public calls for innovative approaches, particularly at a time when financial resources are stretched and the funding pool becomes more limited,” she said according to Brunei Times.
According to the Borneo Bulletin, Justin Wong, the medical superintendent for public health at the Ministry of Health, told reporters on the last day of the 11th SOMHD that Brunei would have three main priorities during its chairmanship.
The first is preventing and controlling non-communicable diseases. That is no surprise considering Brunei’s previous role in this issue, with the Bandar Seri Begawan Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases adopted during the 23rd ASEAN Summit in Brunei in 2013.
The second is contending with emerging infectious disease threats, with a recent example being the Zika virus which has already hit several Southeast Asian countries. He stressed the need for a regional plan on dealing with such threats as well as more information sharing.
The third and final priority is sustaining the level of healthcare amid rising demands among populations. He said ensuring adequate coverage and access for people without them experiencing financial hardship was a priority and that countries should explore models of sustainable funding.
Around a hundred senior officials from ASEAN countries and other Asian states including Japan, South Korea and China attended the 11th SOMHD.