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Southeast Asia Faces Growing Health Issues

Posted on Jan 27, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

A series of studies has highlighted concerns about the number of people dying from chronic non-communicable diseases in the group of ten countries forming the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The studies published in a recent addition of the Lancet journal covered the issues and potential impact of chronic non-communicable and infectious diseases affecting the regions estimated population of 600 million people over the foreseeable future. The challenges are particularly acute because of the potential for major disasters in the region in an era when changes in social, economic and political reform are taking place. The Southeast Asian nations included in the study were Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The studies incorporated the state of healthcare provision in the ASEAN block and called for action to protect populations and minimize deaths arising from diseases afflicting individuals - especially the poorer elements of society. The papers warn of an emerging health crisis in Southeast Asian countries, highlighting the effects of chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease; chronic illness caused the death of 2.6 million people - over 60 percent off all deaths in the region - in 2005. The extrapolation predicts that this could increase to 4.2 million deaths per year by 2030, if action is not taken to achieve an improvement in health conditions. The study also covered the impact of infectious diseases in the region, including the risks from emerging diseases such as SARS and bird flu in addition to malaria, cholera and dengue; recognizing that the region is highly prone to outbreaks of these sorts of difficult to control infectious diseases. Calls are made for Southeast Asian governments to take a more pro-active approach to the control of infectious diseases with the setting up of better surveillance processes to contain risks. It is recognized that Southeast Asia is a region of the world which is vastly diverse in social, economic and political aspects. While Southeast Asia has become a crucial region for global trade, the social fabric of the region has been shaped by historical and geographical factors producing a network of diverse cultures. However the region is vulnerable to natural disasters and in some cases inadequate healthcare systems contributing to concerns for the health of inhabitants in the region if measures are not taken to combat chronic and infectious diseases. The region is also facing the burden of an ageing population, and a shift in populations from rural to urban locations, placing extra demands on public healthcare systems; the rapid demographic changes occurring within and across national borders. The high level of migration of people to urban areas is increasing population densities in urban areas and is heightening the risk of infectious diseases particularly affecting poorer elements of society. Southeast Asia is a region prone to national disasters impacting on the environment and leading to extreme health issues. The occurrence of monsoons, typhoons, droughts and floods can result in large numbers of people contracting infectious disease such as malaria and cholera. Political turmoil and tensions in the region can also be detrimental to the delivery of quality healthcare and the control of outbreaks of infectious diseases. The studies emphasized the need for an improvement in surveillance techniques in order to combat these affects and avoid the threats from pandemics. The papers studied the financing of health provision in the Southeast Asian countries subject to the review, identifying those countries seeking to provide an increase in universal coverage instead of a direct out-of-pocket payment based systems. Some countries, notably Laos and Cambodia, primarily relied on the provision of donations to fund healthcare for their poorer segments of society. Thailand, Vietnam Indonesia and the Philippines are four countries in the Southeast Asia which are currently going through an economic expansion, and have a social health insurance scheme in place with payroll tax providing public healthcare. Also, as these countries experience a growth in affluence, the number of individuals covered by health insurance has increased in recent years and is set to continue on an upward trend relieving pressures on state funded healthcare provision. The establishment of soundly based arrangements for funding improvements to healthcare is recognized as key to combating the affects of chronic and infectious diseases in the region. Singapore and Malaysia, two of the most developed nations in the Southeast Asia, both have advanced healthcare systems, which are readily available to the citizens of these countries. Also Singapore and Malaysia have strong private healthcare systems playing a major role in providing healthcare for the more affluent populations in these countries. The poor populations in the poorer countries in South east Asia are clearly most at risk from inadequate healthcare systems. In addition to concerns over monitoring and controlling health issues, there are worries that the Southeast Asian Nations Framework Agreement on Services will further lead to a brain drain of medical professionals working within the public healthcare services throughout region as they seek work in the private Southeast Asian healthcare sector, thus creating a shortage of human resources for state run health services in the region. The introduction of mircoinsurance specifically aimed at making insurance affordable for the less wealthy has expanded in recent times and has become an important method of saving and provision of health insurance. This will undoubtedly provide a significant benefit in better managing the effects of chronic and infectious diseases in the medium and longer term in Southeast Asia
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