Reshaping Australia’s health security engagement in the Indo-Pacific

Reshaping Australia’s health security engagement in the Indo-Pacific

Nicholas Thomson, Andy Singh and Mason Littlejohn | The Strategist

AIPM's Acting Deputy Director, Andy Singh, with Nicholas Thomson and Mason Littlejohn, who brought the SAHELI program to the AIPM, collaborate on this article for The Strategist.

"The global spread of Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of having a health security strategy that extends way outside of Australia.

The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade demonstrates Australia’s commitment to preparedness for health emergencies in the Indo-Pacific. The centre was established in 2017 to build capacity in laboratory surveillance and field-based epidemiology and to drive research that enhances pandemic preparedness and response and supports Australia’s biosecurity priorities.

The centre works closely with national and regional bilateral and multilateral partners to deliver on the International Health Regulations 2005, which lay out the core capacities that all World Health Organization member states are required to have. Progress on meeting the core capacities is assessed through independent joint external evaluations that identify gaps and support states to develop work plans to fill the gaps.

One core capacity that’s consistently evaluated as poor in almost all countries in the Indo-Pacific is the linking of public health and security authorities during a suspected or confirmed biological event. Linking is evidenced by the development and formal acceptance of a memorandum of understanding or other agreement or protocol between a country’s public health and security authorities and by the development of country-specific training curriculums. While a supporting national and international partner is identified for many of the core capacities, the regulations and guidance don’t say who is responsible for resourcing activities related to building capacity in the public security sector and driving formal partnerships between public health and public security.

In response to Covid-19, the Chinese government mobilised its Public Security Bureau to lock down Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei Province for over two months. It’s doubtful that many countries could (or would want to) implement the extreme control measures taken in Wuhan, which have included using the mass surveillance capacity of the Chinese state and strict door-to-door enforcement."

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Nicholas Thomson, Andy Singh and Mason Littlejohn, The Strategist