To contain infectious diseases, the international community needs to cooperate in supporting efforts by developing countries.
The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea, as well as the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, held a videoconference during which they agreed to work together to develop a drug for the new coronavirus.
Among ASEAN countries, infections have spread mainly in the Philippines and Indonesia. There are reportedly many cases in slums where hygiene management is inadequate with no facilities for washing one’s hands.
Concern cannot be eliminated about a possible explosive outbreak in the region including such low-income countries as Cambodia and Laos. Supporting these nations is an urgent task.
During the videoconference, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled a plan to establish an ASEAN-wide center to tackle infectious diseases. It is significant that Japan, China and South Korea will work together to establish a base for epidemic prevention and medical treatment within ASEAN countries.
It is important for the 13 countries to share information on the characteristics of viruses and cases of infection, among other matters. Japan has provided Avigan, which is seen as a possible drug for treating people with the coronavirus, to Indonesia and other countries free of charge. It is hoped that Japan will speed up research on the drug with the cooperation of other nations.
Even if developed countries succeed in containing infections, the virus could spread through the world again if the epidemic continues in developing countries and elsewhere. The government should pay attention to countries with vulnerable medical systems, while implementing sufficient domestic measures.
Many manufacturers have been forced to suspend production, as the supply of parts from China has stalled. The government should deepen its cooperation with ASEAN countries to diversify suppliers.
ASEAN countries intend to promote the procurement of medical equipment. They are urged to continue region-wide efforts.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stressed during the videoconference that China had provided masks and other supplies to 130 countries, including ASEAN nations.
This was apparently aimed at regaining its influence, by suppressing criticism that China failed to contain the spread of the virus.
Based on the Belt and Road Initiative intended to create a huge economic zone, China has expanded its assistance to developing countries without considering their ability to repay it. It is essential for the Japanese government to encourage Beijing to provide assistance that contributes to the development of recipient countries.
In the face of the pandemic, Japan and China, both of which are major economic powers, are urged to take a cooperative stance.
The attention of developed countries is now focused on Africa, where there are significant numbers of poor people.
Japan has made efforts to improve the medical and health care in such countries through the framework of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). Amid the current crisis, the government should also extend cooperation such as enhancing these countries’ testing capabilities.
The government must provide financial assistance, extend grace periods on debt repayments by the poorest countries and take other necessary action by coordinating with various international organizations.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 19, 2020.