Prime Minister Hun Sen will travel to Bangkok next week to preside over a special Asean meeting to discuss how the severe acute respiratory syndrome could affect the safety of the region.
Hun Sen said Saturday that he agreed to attend the April 29 summit after receiving a personal invitation from Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
“The premiere of Singapore called me by telephone to discuss the convention of this Asean summit…so I agreed to hold the meeting to take immediate measures,” Hun Sen said at a ceremony in Kompong Siem district, Kompong Cham province.
Cambodia has yet to report a single case of the pneumonialike illness.
The meeting will address SARS not simply as a health hazard, but as a threat to the region’s economic security.
“SARS is a crucial transnational issue that has had an impact on several Asean members and will have serious economic and other implications for the entire region,” said Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, chairman of the Asean Standing Committee, in a statement last week.
The World Health Organization “has assessed that SARS could have global epidemic potential. Therefore, the Asean leaders decided to meet in order to take national and collective measures to deal with this mortal disease,” the statement continued.
This message echoes concerns written in a commentary recently published by the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
SARS also must be considered a human security threat, according to Dr Mely Caballero-Anthony, who wrote the paper, “SARS: A Security Priority.”
“Unless the linkage between infectious diseases and human security is recognized, most countries will still ‘medicalize’ infectious diseases like SARS rather than ‘securitize’ them until the outbreak of the diseases reaches alarming proportions,” Caballero-Anthony wrote.
The author noted the importance of establishing a mechanism to survey and control global diseases.
The WHO has said that Cambodia is on track to meeting the preventive SARS measures established by the organization’s Geneva office, but action must still be taken to protect the country against a potential outbreak.
WHO adviser Dr Veronioque Bortolotti said Sunday that measures taken by the Health Ministry to survey the health of people passing through the airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are satisfactory, but greater efforts must be made to ensure that all border officials are complying with WHO standards.
WHO is not in direct contact with provincial health officials, a fact that could weaken the country’s ability to diagnose and track the disease, Bortolotti said.
The Health Ministry is in the process of establishing field teams to gauge the health situation in Cambodia’s remote regions, Bortolotti said.
(Additional reporting by Kim Chan)