Southeast Asian lawmakers tackle region’s health care systems

How can Southeast Asian countries bolster their health systems to boost social justice and health equity? That’s what a group of lawmakers from the region will attempt to identify at a World Health Organization conference in Thailand.

Southeast Asia still faces big health challenges despite the region’s overall progress in improving health access. The region posts the highest rate of out-of-pocket costs for patients worldwide and only two out of 12 Southeast Asian countries significantly exceed the recommended 5 percent of gross domestic product spending on health, according to Samlee Pilanbangchang, head of WHO in the region.

Other statistics are just as discouraging. IRIN News notes that while East Timor spends 12.3 percent of its GDP on health, the country is among the lowest ranked in terms of quality of child health care in a Save the Children report. Myanmar’s investment in health, meanwhile, is among the lowest worldwide — only 2 percent of GDP. The figures are from WHO’s latest data for the region — compiled in 2009.

Overall, Pilanbangchang said Southeast Asia’s health systems are ill-equipped to respond to the growing challenges of diabetes, cancer and other noncommunicable disease. She also cited the lack of capacity to provide long-term care considering the region’s aging population, IRIN News says.

At the Bangkok meeting, which runs through March 21, delegates will be called on to encourage their governments to spend more on the health sector and to draft “health public policies,” IRIN News says.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.