New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) will seek to provide access to health services for all in Southeast Asia and put in place robust healthcare systems in the region, the agency’s regional director Poonam Khetrapal Singh said in a speech at a conference on Wednesday in Paro, Bhutan.
Public health experts, development agencies and academics are attending the conference to share their experiences and identify ways to bring about universal health coverage (UHC) in Southeast Asia, which aims to ensure that people get health services without experiencing financial hardship in paying for them.
WHO’s Southeast Asia ambit covers 11 countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
In Southeast Asia, out-of-pocket payments for health are the highest among all the WHO regions and one-third of new annual poverty is healthcare related. The World Bank has set a goal to reach UHC by 2030, which is considered central to their objective of ending extreme poverty.
India needs to step up public expenditure on health because the out-of-pocket expenditure in the country is one of the highest in the world, Khetrapal Singh said in e-mail interview last month. “However, putting more resources in health doesn’t always translate into better health outcomes,” she said.
“There is sufficient evidence that if health outcomes are to be improved, ‘cashless access to health services, at all delivery points’ would be required. Some of these approaches are being already considered by the Indian government as part of UHC efforts in India,” she said in that interview.
The reorganization of healthcare services should focus on increasing all type of services, with higher access to and availability of quality health services, developing effective referral linkages and ensuring “continuity of care” from primary to tertiary care facilities, she said.