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Asia Pacific joins in epidemic fighting
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-29 01:24

Countries in the Asia-Pacific region Wednesday pledged to strengthen public health efforts to guard against epidemics.

The Shanghai Declaration, a sum-up of the 60th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), calls for more efforts to co-ordinate among different countries and asks them to set up a more effective and comprehensive mechanism to tackle AIDS and other diseases.

Meanwhile, the session, which closed Wednesday, also adopted a China-initiated call for action to enhance regional capacity-building in public health.

The Asia-Pacific region has witnessed a number of outbreaks of epidemics in recent years, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the bird flu. In both cases, the importance of regional and international co-operation was reflected.

Meanwhile, AIDS has increasingly become another health hazard in the region. While in China, the world's most populous country, the disease has entered a stage where it may start to spread from the high-risk groups to ordinary people, small island countries in the Pacific have also been cautioned about the dangers of AIDS.

At the ministerial segment of the session on Tuesday, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Shen Guofang listed strengthening public health capacity and establishment and improvement of an emergency response mechanism as one of the most important tasks of UNESCAP in recent years.

"Last year's SARS outbreak in some countries and regions and the spread of bird flu earlier have again indicated that public health has already become a global problem and closer international and regional co-operation is needed," said Shen.

In addition, the Shanghai Declaration stresses the core role of the UN and reaffirms the region's commitment to multilateralism and co-operation in resolving global issues.

The countries, as agreed in the declaration, said the next 10 years will be defined by regional economic growth and sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific.

The declaration also highlights poverty-alleviation as a priority in the region, and encourages governments, international agencies and contributors to take an active part in realizing the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The urgency of the issue was again stressed during a press conference held jointly by UNESCAP Executive Secretary Kim Hak-su and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

Both emphasized the importance of co-operative efforts to halve the impoverished population in the region by 2015, a target set down in the Millennium Development Goals.

Still more than two-thirds of the world's poor live in the Asia-Pacific region, noted Kim, stressing that assisting marginalized countries in the region out of poverty remains "the biggest responsibility and challenge of ESCAP."

The 60th session of the UNESCAP, which started last Thursday, was attended by delegates from all its 62 members and associate members. A number of events, including the first ever Asian-Pacific Business Forum was held on the sidelines of the session.

The signing of an intergovernmental agreement on the Asian Highway Network was another important outcome of the session.

As of Wednesday, 25 countries had signed the pact, which will eventually connect the region's roads to facilitate transport and trade.

Kim and Li Wednesday spoke highly of the UNESCAP session in Shanghai.

"The success of this session is greater than most of us expected," said Li at Wednesday's press conference. Li was elected as the chairman of the session.

"It (this session) has become a new landmark and a new starting point," said Li.

The session, which was the highest-level and largest-scale in UNESCAP's history, helped define how UNESCAP should work in the future, said Kim, adding that a wide range of strategies will strengthen regional development and co-operation.

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