The ASEAN region suffers from a heavy load of infectious diseases and is increasingly burdened by chronic lifestyle diseases associated with developed economies.18 Healthcare systems are under significant strain from this dual burden coupled with aging populations.19 Non-communicable diseases now account for over 50% of deaths in the region, with strong prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, cancers, and chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease.
The Southeast Asian region predominantly experiences a wet tropical climate that encourages vector- and water-borne diseases. The region accounts for less than 9% of total global population but carries over 25% of the world’s infectious and parasitic diseases. Major infectious diseases in the region include malaria, dengue fever, bacterial diarrhoea, leptospirosis, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, HIV. Infectious diseases are becoming increasingly problematic globally as changing climatic conditions enable a wider geographical spreading from rural to urban areas, and across country borders. Moreover, Southeast Asia is one of the world’s hotspots for the emergence of new infections and drug resistance. In 2009, for example, the first malaria parasites resistant to the life-saving drug artemisinin were discovered in Cambodia, which the WHO predicts “could seriously undermine the success of the global malaria control efforts.”
There is a long tradition of international collaboration in the field of infectious diseases with the ASEAN countries and health research is a proven strength across the ASEAN region. (Refer to table: co-publication levels and participation of, and funding received by, ASEAN countries in FP7). ASEAN COST has identified health as a research priority for the region as one of its flagship programmes. Nonetheless, major obstacles exist to overcome the existing and increasing global health challenges including the need for deeper understanding of disease pathology and the socio-economic causes of the diseases and how these can influence the effectiveness of health interventions.
ASEAN has growing research and clinical capacity and the region holds potential for providing a significant pool of talents in the field of health. The region has emerged as a competitive location for large-scale clinical drug trials. The Philippines have won three WHO Sasakawa Health Prizes over the last ten years and the world’s largest HIV vaccine clinical trials were conducted in Thailand in 2009.