The emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the Asia Pacific Region during 2003 and avian influenza H5N1 in 2004 has showed the impact that health challenges can have across a broad range of sectors, including health, agriculture, trade, tourism, transportation, and business. APEC's leadership in the region and its wide-ranging economic work programme make it uniquely suited to address the multi-sectoral impact of today's health threats.

Senior Officials responded to calls in 2003 from both Health Ministers and delegates from APEC's Industrial Science and Technology Working Group to establish a mechanism to address health within APEC more efficiently and effectively than in the past. In October 2003 the ad hoc Health Task Force (HTF) was established to address health-related threats to economies, trade and security, focusing mainly on emerging infectious diseases, including naturally occurring and manmade diseases. The Task Force will implement APEC's health-related activities as directed by Leaders, Ministers and Senior Officials. These will include some of the activities in the Health Security Initiative, which APEC Leaders announced in October 2003.

The task force's mandate was originally in place until 2007. The Senior Officials' Steering Committee on ECOTECH (SCE) conducted a review of APEC working groups and task forces in 2006 and recommended that the HTF be transformed into the Health Working Group. Based on the report, "HTF Beyond 2007," the recommendation was accepted and was endorsed by Senior Officials in April 2007. The establishment of the Health Working Group was subsequently endorsed by Health Ministers in June 2007 and by APEC Ministers in September 2007. The first meeting of the Health Working Group was held in Lima, Peru on 21-22 February 2008 when they approved new terms of reference and the 2008 work plan.

Latest developments and key outcomes from the APEC Health Task Force can be found on the APEC website’s Health Working Group page