Fri, 24 May 2019

Health priorities in Asia Pacific on the agenda of G20 meeting

By Jay Jackson, Osaka News
13 Feb 2019, 23:09 GMT+10

TOKYO, Japan - Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Takehiko Nakao was in Tokyo on Wednesday in the context of the G20 summit to address public health priorities for the Asia Pacific region.

Joined by Japan International Cooperation Agency President Shinichi Kitaoka, the pair opened the ADB-JICA Meeting on Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Asia and the Pacific.

The two bodies have been partners in the health sector, as well as in infrastructure, climate change, education, and gender equality.

Wednesdays meeting saw representatives from 25 countries come together, including health ministers and directors of regional public health institutes, to share global and regional experience in supporting Universal Health Coverage (UHC), and to discuss partnerships to bridge health care financing gaps, priority health issues including noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and elderly care, and pandemic preparedness.

The World Health Organization defines UHC as ensuring that all people can use the health services they need, at a sufficient quality, without being exposed to financial hardship.

Collaboration between ADB and JICA should be strengthened in order to achieve UHC in this region by tackling the threat of communicable diseases as well as aging society. Sharing all of our experiences and lessons, whether successful or unsuccessful, is one of our responsibilities in this region to advance UHC, Mr. Kitaoka said Wednesday.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Nakao said, Under our new long-term Strategy 2030, in response to Asia and the Pacifics growing needs for health services, ADB is scaling up our health sector operations with a focus on UHC.

The ASDB chief went on to elaborate on four critical challenges to achieving and maintaining UHC. First is a financially sustainable health system, he said. The challenge of financing health is compounded by increasing longevity and aging societies, which increase demands for financing. Technological development in health also incurs greater cost per patient as more sophisticated equipment and medicine are used.

Developing countries can learn from the experiences of developed countries, including areas of needed improvement. A financially sustainable health system should have such elements as (i) a clear idea about who assumes the financial burden over the years, (ii) a good function by insurers to check efficiency, (iii) a system to monitor the effectiveness of medicine and treatments using broad data, and (iv) an incentive framework for patients and service providers for improved efficiency and cost saving.

Second is the growing burden of NCDs. When people live longer, there is a higher prevalence of NCDs. In addition to effective and efficient treatment and management, preventive measures including community-based health care and the encouragement of healthy behaviors are crucial.

The third challenge is health security. UHC, he said, must include disease surveillance and stronger laboratory capacity to check and prevent outbreaks of pandemics such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) at the early stage. Finally, health systems have the challenge and opportunity of using innovative technology such as the internet, digitalization, big data, and artificial intelligence, for the sustainability of health financing and better care depending on the individual situation of patients.

In 2018, ADB loan and grant commitments in the health sector totaled $516 million for 13 projects, the highest numbers for health since 2010. The projects included support for enhancing provincial-level health services in Papua New Guinea; the integration of maternal and child health services in Tajikistan; strengthening of health systems in Bhutan, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka; and investments in private hospitals that expand access to low-cost quality maternity care in Indonesia.

Professor Keizo Takemi, a Member of Japan'sHouse of Councillors and Special Committee on Health Security, emphasized the importance of health systems reforms in his keynote address. He discussed the old way of vertical treatments of individual diseases, stressed the special needs of aging societies and the growing demand for treatments of NCDs, and recommended comprehensive horizontal approaches that treat the patient as a whole and not individual diseases to truly achieve UHC.

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