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Regional emerging diseases centre officially opens in Singapore
CNA 24 May 2004

SINGAPORE : The Asia-Pacific region now has new arsenal to fight infectious diseases and bioterrorism threats, with the opening of the Regional Emerging Diseases Intervention Centre in Singapore.

The opening of the REDI Centre comes a year after Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong first proposed it to US President George W Bush when they met in Washington last May.

"In the coming years, there will be other infectious diseases which will have serious impact on the region. It is my hope that REDI will do its part to ensure we are all ready to handle such crises," said Singapore Acting Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

"Through vigilance and cooperation, we can minimise the impact of these new emerging and re-emerging diseases."

Set up at a cost of S$400,000, the REDI Centre's top priority is the surveillance of emerging infectious diseases like SARS.

But the Centre, nestled in the Biopolis alongside key research institutes and pharmaceutical companies, will also be a base for the training of public health officials, researchers, clinicians and other health professionals.

"While this Centre is primarily bilateral, we hope to see other countries come into the REDI Centre, and bring their expertise and also to learn, particularly in training activities that will take place here on the ground," said Claude Allen, US deputy secretary of Health & Human Services.

"That's what's key about this --that the REDI Centre is not just a bilateral activity. It's a bilateral activity that hopes to draw multi-national support and cooperation."

Backed by the US Centres for Disease Control, and Food and Drug Administration, REDI Centre hopes to grow its staff strength from the present four to 15, and start training courses by year's end.

The Centre is headed by Dr Kimi-Lin from the US National Institutes of Health.

Its first project is flu surveillance.

"In light of the Avian Influenza earlier this year, we're quite concerned about the emergence of a new strain of the influenza virus. And if a new strain comes out that most populations in the world have no immunity against, that means the new strain could cause a pandemic outbreak," said Dr Kimi-Lin.

It is hoped REDI can tap on the US' and the region's expertise to develop new vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tests.

Already, the Centre's many-hands approach has received a shot in its arm from the World Health Organisation.

WHO head Dr Lee Jong Wook has affirmed its commitment to work with REDI Centre during a visit to Singapore in April. -CNA

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