With memories of the 2003 Sars outbreak still fresh, Asean and three regional partners - China, South Korea and Japan - have taken another step towards safeguarding healthcare in the area.
A Statement on Cooperation Against Antimicrobial Resistance was issued yesterday at the 21st Asean Plus Three Summit, in addition to other matters tabled, such as a work programme on eco-nomic cooperation.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the summit that this statement "will drive our collective efforts to tackle this pressing challenge".
While countries in the group cooperate in areas such as education, finance and food security, he noted that this year they paid particular attention to healthcare.
The statement notes the adverse impact of antimicrobial resistance in agriculture and healthcare.
It also recognises that such resistance will raise mortality and healthcare costs - affecting healthcare systems and global economies.
In the statement, leaders agreed to speed up regional action against antimicrobial resistance.
Among other issues, they pledged to strengthen efforts in implementing commitments under the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to fight communicable diseases and epidemics such as malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis.
They also agreed to encourage and support countries in formulating and implementing national action plans.
The summit also saw countries agree to work together to tackle the issue of plastic waste in the ocean, the Nikkei Asian Review reported yesterday.
It said leaders discussed the launch of the Asean Plus Three Marine Plastics Debris Cooperative Action Initiative, which will see nations work together to develop capacity in monitoring plastic waste in the ocean, as well as share best practices with each other.
Last year, Asean's trade in goods with the Plus Three countries totalled more than US$800 billion (S$1.1 trillion), and at the summit, PM Lee outlined the "unpredic-table strategic landscape" countries now find themselves in as well.
"Major power rivalry is on the rise, manifesting itself in competing visions for the regional architecture and in a growing trade war," he said.
And while the digital revolution allows nations to forge closer networks, it has also made them more vulnerable to cyber attacks.
"These developments call for the Asean Plus Three members to close ranks and to redouble our efforts to uphold multilateralism," said PM Lee.
He noted the need to strengthen the multilateral trading system, expand cooperation into digital domains such as fintech and build a sustainable future for people across the region.
"I am confident that the Asean Plus Three will continue to grow and strengthen, and contribute to playing a vital role in maintaining our open, inclusive and Asean-centric regional architecture," he said.