Singapore’s Temasek Foundation and Brunei’s Ministry of Health announced today, at the sidelines of the Special Ministerial Conference for ASEAN Digital Public Health (ADPH) plans to deepen cooperation in public health research in response to challenges affecting ASEAN and the rest of the world brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Led by Brunei Darussalam, who is 2021 Chair of ASEAN and host of ADPH, the collaboration also seeks to establish channels and grow regional capabilities to prevent and control emerging infectious diseases and improve preparedness when the next pandemic strikes. It is aligned with efforts to address Health Priority 8 in the ASEAN Health Cluster 2: Responding to All Hazards and Emerging Threats Work Programme 2016-2020.

“This collaboration with Brunei’s Ministry of Health is a natural extension of the work Temasek Foundation has been involved in for many years in Singapore and the wider region. The next, as yet unknown crisis, or ‘Crisis X’ as we call it, could be a major threat to lives and livelihoods of communities in Singapore and the region as a whole. By promoting dialogue, exchange and collaboration, we gain a better understanding of the threats, and the collective learning through research and data sharing among key stakeholders from across the region will allow us to enhance our preparedness and readiness,” said Benedict Cheong, Chief Executive, Temasek Foundation International.

Collaboration on Field Research for COVID-19 Response

The first programme to be initiated under this collaboration is a field research project designed to compare the long-term immune response and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, by measuring the neutralising antibodies (nAbs) in 3,000 fully vaccinated individuals based in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam.

Funded by Temasek Foundation, the research will be co-led by Brunei’s Ministry of Health, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, and Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. Blood samples will be collected to test for nAbs that bind specifically to the receptor binding domain of the spike proteins on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These nAbs block viral entry into host cells and are highly predictive of immune protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection. The research data from the project can be used to infer the level of population immunity to COVID-19 based on the level of neutralising antibodies in the vaccinated individuals. If vaccine breakthrough occurs in the vaccinated individuals, it will also provide data on correlation of protection against infection.

Results of the study can be used to inform the decision making of public health policymakers regarding COVID-19 control strategies, such as travel policies and green lane arrangements, determining optimum length of quarantine periods for travellers, and whether to mandate booster vaccines for individuals with low levels of nAbs.

Dr Justin Wong, Head, Disease Control Division, Ministry of Health, Brunei, said, “The Ministry of Health welcomes this research project that aims to generate high-quality scientific data that can guide policy decisions on the national COVID-19 vaccination programme in Brunei. We look forward to future research collaboration that contributes towards delivering on improved health outcomes across the region."

Duke-NUS Dean, Professor Thomas Coffman, said, “We are excited that technology invented at Duke-NUS is benefitting not just Singapore but countries around the region. Understanding the immune response to vaccination and infection will be critical to driving strategies across Asia in transitioning to endemic COVID-19 without overwhelming healthcare systems.”

Besides Brunei Darussalam, Temasek Foundation is also collaborating with other ASEAN countries on various initiatives to enhance the wider learning towards crisis preparedness and response. These include research and sero-surveillance programmes where the outcomes will be shared with public health policymakers from the ASEAN countries.

The Special Ministerial Conference for ASEAN Digital Public Health (ADPH)

The Conference, held from 6 to 7 October 2021, was hosted by the Ministry of Finance and Economy, the Ministry of Health and Brunei Investment Agency in Brunei Darussalam, and organising partners, EVYD Technology and Temasek Foundation.

The ADPH brought together the full range of stakeholders to discuss the science behind pandemics, lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of investing, financing and collaborating to improve future public health crisis responses.

The APDH aims to provide a platform for critical discussions on public health surveillance, helping to create a common understanding of the need for a high level of capability, collaboration and capacity to detect, investigate, contain, and manage outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases.

For the full ADPH programme and information pack Click here

Mr Richard Magnus, Deputy Chairman, Temasek Foundation, was part of a panel discussion on collaborations in public health. The panel discussed potential issues and roadblocks in managing transnational pandemics and public health emergencies and how regional cooperation could improve health surveillance.

“Temasek Foundation has many years of experience of building social resilience of communities in Singapore and in the region. One of the keys to resilience is learning and applying the lessons from the crises we face together. COVID-19 has shown us that international cooperation involving multiple stakeholders works for everyone. Philanthropic organisations like Temasek Foundation can play our part in rallying local and regional stakeholders in the fields of science, technology and innovation to share knowledge and collaborate to address future health crises,” said Mr Magnus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the vulnerability of our regional healthcare systems and the urgent need to work together and learn from one another to be better prepared for any future healthcare emergencies and reduce attendant human, social and economic costs. A key part of those preparations will involve the pooling and sharing of data, research and knowledge.

Temasek Foundation has committed funding to support a series of programmes to build regional partnerships and capabilities in crisis preparedness. Some of these programmes include a sero-surveillance study on COVID-19 vaccines; field hospital design and management for pandemic response in South Asia; and the establishment of a regional community of practice on public health to respond to pandemics.

These programmes complement Temasek Foundation’s Stay Prepared COVID-19 initiatives in Singapore and globally. Since March 2020, Temasek Foundation has been working with multiple partners to provide hand sanitisers, reusable and surgical masks, and other items through its nationwide distributions in Singapore, and donated Personal Protection Equipment, medical equipment and diagnostics to over 40 countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information on Temasek Foundation’s COVID-19 initiatives in Singapore and the region Click here

 

Annex

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