A leading international medical researcher has issued a challenge for Perth to develop a southern hemisphere version of the US-based Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).
Professor Emeritus Sai Kit (Ken) Lam, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the University of Malaya and winner of a number international awards, said Australia could play a leading role in the fight against natural disasters and diseases in the Asian zone.
Addressing delegates at the inaugural In The Zone conference at The University of Western Australia, Professor Lam said "Perth can play a key role; it is in a strategic location, with good infrastructure and good manpower."
He predicted that outbreaks such as SARS, "Avian" flu and "Swine" flu would be followed by other infections in coming years, and countries in the Asian region needed to work collaboratively to be vigilant and prepared.
Professor Lam played a central role in the identification of the "Nipah" virus, which followed the major fires in Indonesia and Malaysia in 1997 and led to an epidemic of fatal encephalitis among Malaysian pig farmers.
Meanwhile Professor Sangkot Marzuki, Director Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, Jakarta and President Indonesian Academy of Sciences, highlighted the importance of collaboration between Australia and Indonesia in molecular cell biology.
"We are one world, one health and one world, one threat," he said. "Terrorist-related mass disasters are trans-national issues; infectious diseases do not recognise national boundaries."
Professor Marzuki and the Eijkman Institute have assisted police in the identification of suicide bombers and responded to emerging diseases such as the "Avian" Influenza, which he described as one of the most serious potential threats to human health in 50 years.
Also at the conference session, which was facilitated by Professor Barry Marshall AC Nobel Laureate, was Dr Bruce Robinson, Professor of Medicine at UWA and a consultant lung specialist at the UWA unit at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
Dr Robinson saw first-hand the challenges of being prepared for disaster when he travelled to Aceh after the tsunami in 2004-2005. His work there prompted him to establish the International Skills and Training Institute for Health (ISTIH) to help address disaster-preparedness and health training issues in the Asian region.
Dr Robinson stressed the importance of improving local responses to natural disasters, arguing that the two days immediately following a crisis were the most important, particularly in terms of issues such as trauma, wound infection and inhaled contaminated water.
Local responsiveness was critical because of local links to police and military, issues of local pride and dignity, the ability to enact sustainable programs and issues of local custom and culture.
ISTIH, which has relationships in seven countries in the Asian zone, aims to "train the trainer".
Dr Robinson said countries in the zone had an obligation to assist others in disasters.
"Helping in the zone should be core business for every business, government and university," he said.
IN THE ZONE is a major public policy conference initiated by The University of Western Australia positioning Western Australia as a thought leader within the time zone it shares with 60 per cent of the world's population and the nations which promise the greatest economic growth for the 21st century.
2009 marks the inaugural IN THE ZONE Conference. This will become a biennial event and a strategic meeting point for the Australian and wider regional community to engage in dialogue about the zone we inhabit and to deepen the policy, trade and investment relationships.
Information about In the Zone, including the conference program: www.zone.uwa.edu.au
NB: MEDIA REPRESENTATIVES MUST REGISTER TO COVER THE CONFERENCE. GO TO: www.zone.uwa.edu.au/news/media_registration