The United Kingdom Health Security Agency IHR-Strengthening Project team in Southeast Asia (UKHSA IHR-SP SEA Team) organised its first workshop on multisectoral coordination and response to chemical events on 20-22 February 2024 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Conducted in partnership with the ASEAN Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) Network and the Ministry of Health (MOH)Malaysia, the workshop was attended by 32 participants representing 9 ASEAN Member States (AMS). The workshop saw a high level of engagement and active participation through working groups and plenary discussions. 

Chemical events are an often under-reported hazard to public health with events such as oil spills, waste fires and others impacting health. These issues have become increasingly prevalent across South East Asia with incidents such as the 2019 illegal chemical dumping in the Kim-Kim river leading to a toxic gas release that hospitalised 2,775 people in Malaysiaraising the importance of chemical incident response and managementMultisector response to chemical hazards is a key component of the International Health Regulations, which includes coordination between emergency services, public health, environment agencies and many others.

The workshop used simulation activities to gauge the current capacity of each AMS to respond to chemical events. For the simulation, UKHSA developed three scenarios and relevant injects and facilitated working groups to explore emergency management and multisector coordinatioin member states. The IHR-SP Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards team also presented on how the UK would respond to each of the simulation scenarios, sharing tools, resources and policies that AMS might find helpful to develop in their own contexts.  

During the three-day workshop, AMS also presented their current all-hazard or emergency plans, as well as any challenges they face in terms of coordination and response to chemical hazards across sectors. The presentations allowed participants from other AMS to learn best practices from each other, enabling two-way learning on shared challenges and potential solutions. 

The workshop received positive feedback from all participants. Most of the positive feedback indicated that they intended to use the learning from the workshop in their role and in future activities in their country. After the workshop, the UKHSA IHR-SP SEA Team, ASEAN EOC Network and MOH Malaysia discussed valuable learnings and committed to continue this collaborative work to strengthen the region’s capacity to respond to chemical hazards.