September 17, 2009: Dr. Mika Shimizu and Mr. Leo Bosner

(Click to enlarge) Dr. Mika Shimizu and Mr. Leo Bosner describe health disaster risk threats in Asia.

Managing Global Health Risks in Asia: Lessons from Japan


(Washington D.C.) September 17– Despite the increasing threat of global health risks in Asia, regional governments fall short in their preparation for managing the impact of possible pandemic influenzas. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia Pacific Security Seminar, Dr. Mika Shimizu, visiting scholar at the East-West Center in Washington and an Abe Fellow, and Mr. Leo Bosner, a former emergency management specialist with the U.S. government, discussed the growing threat of global health risks in Asia, examining the reactions of the Japanese government to the recent H1N1 influenza outbreak, and suggesting steps to improve the management of global health risks in Asia.


To view Dr. Shimizu's PowerPoint presentation, click here.


Global health risks, such as SARS, the avian flu, and the H1N1 flu, are a growing challenge for the international community. Passed easily around the world due to increasing international business and social networks and requiring transnational cooperation to track and combat, global health risks pose serious threats to world security. The unpredictable nature of global health threats makes it difficult to predict how much and what kind of damage they will cause and to effectively plan to deal with these crises before they occur.


Dr. Shimizu explained that while the World Health Organization has an important part to play in managing global health risks, effective planning and management by national and local governments is essential in fighting these threats. This is particularly true in Asia, she noted, where the number of high consequence disasters, including not only global influenzas but also typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, has been increasing in the last decade. Yet Asian nations continue to be unprepared to deal with disasters, lacking sufficient preparation, feasible action plans, and cooperation between internal national agencies and between countries.


Dr. Shimizu described the recent reaction of the Japanese government to the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic. She noted that Japanese local and national governments responded swiftly to the first confirmed case of H1N1 in Japan, as many local governments have developed quick disaster reaction mechanisms to deal with frequent earthquakes. However, she explained that earthquakes pose very different risks than influenzas and require different action plans. In Japan, insufficient pre-crisis preparedness for health risk management led to confusion over the best steps to take. For example, though communication with the public was quick, it took place before the full situation was understood, leading to confusion among the population. Further, previously prepared management plans were incomplete, lacking clear operational plans and feasible policies to deal with the crisis. Further, Dr. Shimizu pointed out that cooperation between government agencies, local and national governments, and the international community was ad-hoc, leading to difficulties in communication, sharing data, and dealing with the public.


The reactions of the Japanese government to this crisis suggest several key implications for improving the preparation and management of global health risks in Asia. Dr. Shimizu argued that proper health risk management requires the creation of clear, operationable, and realistic action plans in advance of a crisis, careful periodic review of those plans, and the implementation of regular exercises to prepare for actual disasters. Mr. Bosner agreed, noting that national governments often create disaster management plans that lack careful consideration of the resources and manpower required to carry out the actions that they suggest, leading to an inability to implement those plans when an actual crisis occurs. Dr. Shimizu also suggested that regional networks should be created to share information and experience across national borders, and that health risk management professionals should be given regular opportunities to meet and describe best practices. The fight against global health risks in Asia requires not only careful planning at the local and national level, but concerted cooperation and communication across national borders to ensure that the most effective measure are taken to deal with these unpredictable threats.


Mika Shimizuis a visiting scholar at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and an Abe Fellowship recipient (2009). Previously, she served as a policy researcher at Nomura Research Institute, America and as a special assistant at the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C. She was also a visiting fellow at the Center for Pacific Asia Studies at Stockholm University. She has conducted research on globalization and disaster risk management issues in Asia and the United States.


Leo Bosneris an emergency management specialist who retired from the U.S. government in 2008. During his government service, Mr. Bosner worked as a disaster response planner in such areas as search and rescue, medical response to disasters, state and local disaster preparedness, and disaster workers’ health and safety. From 2000 to 2001, he was a Mike Mansfield Fellow in Tokyo, studying disaster preparedness in Japan. The results of his research were published in Japan and the United States, and he occasionally visits Japan to lecture on disaster preparedness and response.