TOKYO -- Countries in Asia must work together in the battle against infectious diseases, said participants at an international conference held on Feb. 14-15 in the southern Japanese city of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.
The meeting, sponsored by Nikkei and Nikkei Business Publications, took place amid growing concern over reports from China of people being infected with the H7N9 strain of the avian influenza virus. After panel discussions involving more than 30 specialists, the participants released the Okinawa Communicable Diseases Statement 2014.
The statement emphasized the impact of pandemics on society and the economy, declaring, "The outbreaks of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and novel (strains of) avian influenza such as H7N9 have proved that the threats of communicable diseases to our health are ever increasing."
Participants said Japan's medical technology and other resources should be used to help Asia develop new medical treatments, including vaccines and diagnostic tools, for newly discovered and dangerous infectious diseases, as well as underresearched neglected tropical diseases. Innovative business models must be developed to make this happen, the statement said.
More than money
The document called for a Pan-Asian mechanism bringing together industry, governments and academia to ensure that findings of basic research from Japan are shared and put to practical use throughout the region. It highlighted the need to build a network capable of conducting systematic clinical studies on new drugs to combat problems such as multidrug-resistant bacteria like MDR-TB and XDR-Acinetobacter, and to create a drug approval system in Asia that rivals those of the U.S. and Europe.
Other recommendations include sharing Japan's public health expertise and designating Okinawa as a center for the fight against communicable diseases in Asia. Okinawa's location makes it a gateway between Japan and other Asian countries, and the prefecture has experience in eliminating such communicable diseases as filariasis and malaria. The conference stressed the need for Japan's international contribution and close cooperation with the rest of Asia in responding to the threat of these diseases.
Participants urged Japan to move beyond providing financial assistance to developing countries, saying the country should share its disease-fighting technology throughout Asia. Doing so would create opportunities for Japanese companies such as the development of drugs to treat the diseases.
The conference drew a wide range of participants from around the region, including researchers and officials from Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as from international health organizations and companies.
Speaking at the conference, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, an academic fellow at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies of Japan, said, "The political and economic power balance has been changing, and national and international governing bodies are losing their ability and authority. Thus, regional collaboration may become a key element of better governance of world affairs."
"Resilience and risk preparedness and management have become key national and international agenda items. In this context, the flu and other infectious agents represent a major challenge."
Nikki Shindo, conference vice chairwoman and medical officer at the World Health Organization's Global Influenza Program, praised the meeting for "gathering key players in one place," adding she hoped they would "take real action."
The meeting was a big step forward, said Shigeru Omi, who served as conference chairman. "Deep analysis and concrete action plans will be needed" as a next step, he said. Omi is regional director emeritus at the WHO's Regional Office for the Western Pacific.