Asian World Health Summit Opens In Shadow Of H7N9 Threat

More than 900 delegates have gathered at the World Health Summit Asia 2013 in Singapore to discuss the issues and challenges in public health facing Asia.

AsianScientist (Apr. 9, 2013) – Singapore opened its first hosting of the World Health Summit Asia 2013 on Monday under the overall theme of “Health for Sustainable Development in Asia.” More than 900 delegates from over 46 countries are attending to discuss central challenges in the future of health in Asia.

Not scheduled for the conference but regularly referred to by the panel speakers were the increasing reports of human infection with the H7N9 avian influenza virus in China, similar to the beginnings of the SARS outbreak of 2003, which went on to define much of infectious disease response for the island nation of Singapore and the Asian region.

Dr. Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Public Health, began the conference by addressing the tenth anniversary of SARS, head on. It was a particular point of relevance as Singapore and nearby Hong Kong were centers for the control and early science surrounding the 2003 outbreak.

The relevance of genomic medicine to future epidemics was driven home by Dr. Marie Claire King, an American Cancer Society Professor from Washington University. She declared that genomic science applied to infections like SARS, is “genomic epidemiology in its purest sense” because of the ability to watch evolutionary mechanisms in real time. In short, the understanding of genomic data for viruses, bacteria, and people can provide a primer for the epidemics of the future, she said.

In the example of SARS the rapid assessment of viral selection, migration, and mutation rate were rapidly possible because of prior understanding in viral genomic information, Dr. King said. She argued for furthering the science of monitoring evolution in real-time, saying that advances in genomics of viral and bacterial organisms may also benefit the understanding of slower moving epidemics such as cancer and cardiac disease.

Underscoring the importance of the WHSRMA summit, on the opening day, Singapore’s Ministry of Health issued a directed alert to Singaporean physicians regarding concern for future H7N9 viral infections in Singapore. While the future of H7N9 and its hidden relatives cannot be known in advance, these and other healthcare threats make clear the importance of conferences like the WHSRMA to keep Asian health leaders makers in tune.

The WHSRMA is supported by Singapore’s Ministry of Health and jointly hosted by the National University of Singapore, MOH Holding, and the M8 Alliance. It is being held at the Ritz Carleton, Singapore from April 8-10, 2013.


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