ASEAN Public Health Emergency Coordination System (APHECS)
Driving a New Public Health Order in Southeast Asia
Pandemics have no boundaries. What starts as a problem in one nation can quickly become a regional threat that develops into a global crisis. The unprecedented spread and devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic tested communities throughout the globe—even those considered to be well-prepared. In Southeast Asia, where Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states boast a successful track record of dealing with infectious disease outbreaks of zoonotic origin, such as Avian Influenza and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
(SARS), COVID-19 highlighted where existing national and regional preparedness and response systems, previously successful, have fallen short. Importantly, the crisis demonstrated how public health emergencies can impact every facet of our daily lives, thus galvanizing a whole-of-society approach to recovery efforts as well as renewed vigor for preparing for future threats.
As the ASEAN Health Sector works to establish a stronger, more unified regional approach to responding to future crises, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is leading the U.S. government’s efforts to support the new ASEAN Public Health Emergency Coordination System (APHECS) to collectively prepare for and respond to public health emergencies. Highlighted in the Chairman’s Statement of the 36th ASEAN Summit, APHECS seeks to integrate the many existing coordination mechanisms from across the region and across disparate sectors within a single cohesive platform (e.g. E.g., ASEAN Emergency Operations Centre Network for public health emergencies (ASEAN EOC Network), ASEAN Joint Multi-Sectoral Outbreak Investigation and Response System, and the ASEAN-Plus Three Field Epidemiology Training Network.)
Phases of Development
Implemented over four phases (see graphic), APHECS, serves as a whole-of-ASEAN approach to help ASEAN member states mitigate the harmful impact of potential cross-border public health emergencies. By improving information exchanges through more efficient and faster management systems, and allowing officials to jointly assess possible emerging threats to roll-out collective policies, member states will be more agile and better equipped to quickly contain outbreaks.
As the COVID-19 pandemic underscored, every second counts when it comes to mitigating the toll of a public health emergency. Efficient coordination and communication can save lives and livelihoods. Once fully established, APHECS will help ASEAN better employ a rapid joint outbreak investigation response, and share technical expertise and resources, including logistical management for sharing medical supplies. APHECS will provide a unified, multisectoral institutional framework with public health emergency preparedness and response standard operating procedures. This will enable ASEAN member states to collectively prepare for and respond to public health emergencies, mitigate the impact of future outbreaks, and manage assistance to affected member states. Relying upon an evidence-based, inclusive, and consultative approach, implementation of the first two phases of the APHECS was completed under the ASEAN-USAID PROSPECT project with the final two phases anticipated to be completed by 2025 :
Phase 1 – Assessment;
Phase 2 – Development of the APHECS Framework. The establishment of ACPHEED was announced by ASEAN Leaders during the 37th Summit under the Viet Nam Chairmanship on 12 November 2020. The Government of Japan is committed to the operationalization of ACPHEED and Australia has also pledged assistance. More information on ACPHEED can be found in the previous issue of The ASEAN, Special Edition Nov – Dec 2020;
Phase 3 – Institutional Arrangements and Standard Operating Procedures;
Phase 4 – Operationalization (including training, table-top exercises, and monitoring and evaluation).
The Case for Regionalization
Regional institutions, such as ASEAN, have an important role to play that goes beyond backstopping countries. They can innovate and help adapt responses to regional needs, and can convene decision-makers to secure the required political support—all important elements of success. USAID’s assistance in designing a robust, integrated intra-regional coordination system helps ASEAN demonstrate its global health security leadership and take a more proactive approach to prevent and mitigate the impact of future pandemics. Ensuring thoughtful coordination and alignment with several new and ongoing ASEAN public health initiatives will fortify regional preparedness and response capacity. Particularly important will be continued coordination through the ASEAN Health Sectoral Bodies on the development of APHECS to complement the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED) as well as ensuring alignment with ASEAN’s recently reinvigorated One Health aims. To this end, USAID and the ASEAN will work together to regularly convene coordination meetings to facilitate ongoing conversations amongst relevant stakeholders and partners at the regional level.
Among the many hard lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is how critical proactive coordination and effective, clear communication can be during times of crisis. This lesson will be enshrined in the establishment of APHECS, which will provide the framework, platform, and tools for exchange among ASEAN member states and partners, across countries and across sectors. As the ASEAN Community embarks on an ambitious post-pandemic recovery agenda, APHECS—as part of the suite of new preparedness and response efforts—will reinforce ASEAN’s ability to meet the challenges of today, as well as those of tomorrow.
Key APHECS Milestones:
● November 2020 – USAID’s APHECS proposal endorsed by ASEAN Senior Officials on Health and Development (SOMHD)
● September 2021 to March 2022 – The APHECS Viability Assessment Report and Recommendations draft circulated to the SOMHD for multiple rounds of review and feedback.
● April 20, 2022 – APHECS Viability Assessment Report and Recommendations endorsed by the SOMHD
● May 9, 2023 –, AHPECS Framework Agreement endorsed by Senior Officials Meeting on Health and Development
● September 8, 2023 – APHECS Framework Agreement endorsed by the ASEAN Health Ministers Looking ahead, USAID intends to continue its collaboration with ASEAN to complete the final two phases of APHECS to operationalize the coordination system.
Contact: USAID/RDMA ASEAN Office email@example.com