BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore-Thailand Public Health (BIMST) Conference will undergo a review in order to revamp its role in supporting public health goals in the ASEAN region.

Currently, the BIMST format acts as a platform for public health experts to share their best practices and experiences, but officials want to expand the grouping’s role to support ASEAN’s Post-2015 Health Development Agenda.

BIMST held a meeting in Brunei on Tuesday to see how they can boost regional health cooperation and support the ASEAN Health Clusters which cover promoting healthy lifestyle; responding to hazards and emerging threats; strengthening health system and access to care; and ensuring food safety.

“At the moment [activities] conducted by BIMST are not directly linked [with the ASEAN Health Cooperation]… We want to figure out how we can support the regional bloc to fulfill our obligations as members of ASEAN,” said Dr Hjh Anie Haryani Hj Abd Rahman, director of Environmental Health at Brunei’s Ministry of Health (MoH).

The BIMST grouping began in the 1970s as a series of bilateral and multilateral meetings used to discuss the standardising of international health procedures.

But over the years, BIMST’s role in forging a public health network among the five countries has allowed members to share best practices and innovations in public health management.

During the opening ceremony of the conference, Acting Permanent Secretary at MoH, Dr Hj Zulaidi Hj Abd Latif, said knowledge-sharing platforms like the BIMST are “critical” especially in an age where the realities of modern living have caused a change in disease patterns.

“Non-communicable diseases are now one of the biggest healthcare issues facing policy-makers today,” he said.

“Diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and many NCDs are also social diseases where certain segments of the population are worse off than others – certain groups are at greater risk of acquiring these diseases and additionally, have poorer access to treatment for these conditions.

“Public health action touches on the fabric of society, and disease prevention and control cannot be seen to operate in a silo but must be integrated into wider health and social development strategies.”