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Universal healthcare essential, Asean+3 health ministers say

Jul 06. 2012
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Asean and its key partners Japan, South Korea and China yesterday jointly decided to make universal health coverage an essential provision for the more than 2 billion people living in the region.

This joint statement was made at the 5th Asean+3 Health Ministers Meeting held yesterday in Phuket. The countries discussed means of implementing joint activities in the health sector, especially in terms of universal health coverage, sharing their concerns and expressing their commitment to strengthening this collaboration.

They agreed that the universal health coverage played a crucial role in reducing poverty and giving people access to essential health services.

All participating health ministers said they were committed to establishing an Asean+3 network on universal health coverage, as well as to share and collectively build a national as well as regional capacity to assess and manage an efficient health system that supports universal health coverage.

They will also bring up the issue of universal health coverage at a forum with the United Nations.

The ministers also said that Asean and its key partners should focus on cooperating over issues such as prevention and control of communicable diseases, emergency response mechanisms, mitigating health impacts of natural disasters, food safety, human resource development for health, traditional medicine development and pharmaceutical development including vaccines.

Public Health Minister Witthaya Buranasiri said yesterday that his counterparts praised Thailand’s successful implementation of the universal health coverage scheme over the past 10 years. The universal health scheme in Thailand has provided more than 48 million people with essential medical services and has reduced their financial burden.

Witthaya said Thailand would transfer its knowledge to help regional countries, including Japan, South Korea and China, fully implement universal health coverage. He added that Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos were also interested in the universal health scheme.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s Health Minister Dr Thi Kim Tien Nguyen said his government had set its sights on providing universal health coverage by 2020, which would cover poor people, minority groups and children under the age of six.

“We will learn from Thailand because it is experienced in implementing universal health coverage,” she said.

Vietnam is planning to reform its healthcare system and will work on improving its primary care services and strengthening prevention programmes for emerging diseases as well as infectious and non-communicable conditions like heart disease, cancer, hypertension and mental health, she added.

Laos Public Health Minister Prof Dr Eksavang Vongvichit said his country had issued a decree on national health insurance and financing strategies to ensure equity and easy access to healthcare. Laos is hoping to have its universal health coverage scheme in place by 2020.

“The key direction is to shift from the direct out-of-pocket mechanism to the universal coverage of health,” he said.

Asean+3 health ministers will next meet in 2014 in Vietnam.

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