April 23, 2003

Malaysia to host ASEAN+3 health ministers meeting on SARS

KUALA LUMPUR April 22 - Malaysia will host an ASEAN+3 health ministers meeting to discuss the preventive and control measures related to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, said Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng.
Chua said that the meeting would be held in Putrajaya from April 25 to 26 and would be attended by most of the health ministers of the ASEAN countries.
He said that the health ministers from China, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, South Korea and Japan had also been invited.
"Five health ministers have confirmed their attendance. They are (from) Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia. We're still trying to contact other health ministers such as (from) Vietnam, Hong Kong and China to attend the meeting," he told reporters after launching a "Diabetes Education Programme" here Tuesday.
ASEAN groups Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Acting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who launched the initial efforts for the meeting, would open the two-day meeting, Chua said.
The minister said that the senior officials meeting (SOM) would start on Friday to be followed by the ministerial-level meeting on Saturday.
The meeting will discuss country reports in the areas of epidemoology, public health measures, information of cases and contacts, and how to handle the question of foreign workers.
He said that the meeting would also discuss the need for health declaration cards for East Asian nations as well as the need to share laboratories for identification of the SARS virus.
"There will be discussions on a hospitalisation and universal protection system that we need to learn from some of the countries in the region which have healthcare workers down in such a large number because of the SARS," he said.
Chua said that the meeting would also discuss matters related to the screening of travellers at pre-departure and arrival in Malaysia as well as in other countries affected by the SARS outbreak.
"In the mind of the Cabinet and the Ministry of Health, this is a very important measure that has to be implemented so that we will continue to welcome visitors to this country, but people in this country must be healthy and protected from SARS," Chua said.
He said that there was a need for countries in the region to have close collaboration in terms of research and development on SARS and how to do the contact tracing and isolation of the SARS patient.
"The meeting will later brief their respective heads of government ... and at the end of the meeting there will be a declaration," he said.
The declaration will be forwarded to the ASEAN heads of government during their meeting on SARS in Bangkok on April 29. Abdullah, who is acting prime minister, will represent Malaysia at the meeting.
Chua said that the decision by the Malaysian government to call for the Asean+3 health ministers meeting was a step forward in fighting the SARS outbreak in the region as well as the threat of the killer disease on the Malaysian population.
At the same media conference, Chua was also asked on the Singapore government's decision on Monday to temporarily stop vegetable consignments from Malaysia after a wholesaler at the Pasir Panjang Vegetable Wholesale Market (PPWC) in the island republic was recently diagnosed with SARS.
He said: "We sympathise with them because various businesses from our country will be affected, experience the negative impact of SARS."
On Malaysia's request to the World Health Organisation (WHO) that a new SARS classification system be implemented on countries affected by the SARS, Chua said that the organisation had responded to it, but he believed that it would take some time before WHO could come up with the new classification system.
Malaysia submitted a request to WHO last week asking the world body to redefine the SARS classification system on SARS-affected countries because it posed some problems to the policymakers to take certain preventive actions.
Malaysia has suggested that the classification on SARS-affected countries be broken into three tiers - severe, moderate and mild.
Chua also announced that the Health Ministry would upgrade its laboratory in Sungai Buloh to a high-level security laboratory or P3.
The Institute of Medical Research (IMR) in Jalan Pahang here is currently the only laboratory in the country that has been classified as P3.