Asia’s Health Report Card

The OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to improve the economic and social well-being of people in over 100 countries recently issued Asia’s health report card, to help Asian countries see how their rank globally. And this year Asian nations have done well.

Australia, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand did better than most countries in flattening the curve of the COVID-19 epidemic and containing the first wave of the virus, according to the OECD’s first analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on health systems of countries across the Asia-Pacific as well as governments’ responses to control the virus. These countries developed effective testing, tracing and isolation systems, as well as trust and compliance with social distancing and other key guidelines. Other countries including Viet Nam and Thailand demonstrate the value of a proactive response to successfully contain the virus and limit deaths.

Health at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2020 says that deaths in the Asia-Pacific region attributed to COVID-19 have increased over time and reached over 140,300 – around 12% of the deaths reported in the world – at the beginning of October 2020. In particular, the virus spread rapidly in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines causing a significant impact on human life.

Until vaccines are widely available, countries should address risk factors, create adaptable surge capacity, strengthen the health workforce, and exploit opportunities offered by digital health technologies.

Many low- and middle-income Asian economies needed to spend more on health even prior to the crisis. It is critical to ensure that economic pressures – either during or after the pandemic has ended – do not divert already limited resources away from essential health services. As these countries have limited capacity and depend heavily on household out-of-pocket spending, the significant cost of the COVID-19 response may not be fully within their financial capacity.

The report also says that prevention and treatment services for cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria have been severely disrupted since the pandemic began. The indirect effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women, newborns, young children and adolescents are also huge.

Other findings of Health at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2020 include:

  • Life expectancy increased by 6 years since 2000 to reach 70 years in 2018, but maternal mortality is still twice the Sustainable Development Goal target in lower-middle and low-income countries in the region.
  • At an average of 27.2 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018, infant mortality in lower-middle and low-income Asia-Pacific countries is still seven times that of high income Asia-Pacific countries and OECD rate, and more than two times the SDG target of 12 deaths per 1,000 live births.
  • Almost half of health spending comes from payments made by households out-of-pocket in lower-middle and low income countries. For each dollar spent on health, more than 60 cents were “out-of-pocket” in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Myanmar in 2017

Health at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2020, a joint publication of the OECD with the World Health Organisation, presents key indicators on health status, determinants of health, health care resources and utilisation, health expenditure and financing, and quality of care for 27 Asia/Pacific countries and territories. This report offers a comprehensive and user-friendly framework to help policy makers make further progress towards improving coverage, access and financial protection of population across the Asia/Pacific region.