The world is currently facing an unprecedented scale of public health emergencies in recent human history with the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Sudden behaviour changes required to control the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives and society, such as “stay at home” and “social distancing”. These measures go well beyond the health sector, and everyone is a part of it. This pandemic poses a lesson to us all – we need to build a future more resilient to global health threats, and all of us have a part to play. Traditionally, health issues have been considered the sole responsibility of the health sector. Unfortunately, there are risks involved in a single-sector approach as other sectors are only able to react when the issue escalates. Such reactive measures have their limits, because the actions are only taken after a certain level of visible damage has been done. The links between possible public health emergencies and the involvement of non-health sectors are currently weak, if any. Therefore, it is time to improve cross-sectoral collaboration in this area, with the health sector taking the lead, to avoid similar catastrophes in the future. ASEF’s Sustainable Development and Public Health Department is uniquely positioned to bridge these gaps to unite diverse stakeholders across Asia and Europe to combat global health threats, including pandemics.
While everything else other than the pandemic of COVID-19 seems to have lost its importance, there are some agendas we should not forget. Among many potential global health treats that require cross-sectoral collaboration, the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is “the hidden threat lurking behind COVID-19” . According to some studies, a dangerous secondary bacterial infection was found in 1 out of 7 patients hospitalised with COVID-19, and this has resulted in a 50% fatality rate among them . AMR can leave patients with no treatment options even for simple infections, and having no treatment available for infectious diseases can be terrifying, as we are learning first-hand with this pandemic. With AMR on the rise, the world is running out of effective treatments, and even illnesses such as the common cold or appendicitis can result in death.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that without a multi-sectoral approach, attempts to achieve the SDGs will be hindered due to global health threats. AMR has been recognised as a global threat in the health sector for years, yet awareness and knowledge of it has not reached a wider audience. While it may appear as a problem limited to the health sector, every person has a role to play in fighting against AMR, just as how we individually should reduce the use of single-use plastics. At the Asia-Europe Environment Forum (ENVforum) Annual Conference 2020, the ASEF Public Health Network will host a session on integrating AMR with SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production. It is an attempt to enhance cross-sectoral approach between sustainable development and public health across Asia and Europe. By increasing awareness of AMR, the session intends to call for behaviour change among consumers and producers to build a society more resilient to potential disease outbreaks so that we can achieve SDGs.