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UN forum hears calls for health investments in Asia-Pacific region

UN forum hears calls for health investments in Asia-Pacific region

Ministers from across the Asia-Pacific region – where relative wealth has not translated into health investments – today heard calls at a United Nations meeting in Kazakhstan for more government spending on medical care in order to combat poverty.

Kim Hak-Su, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), told delegates that putting both government and private expenditure together, South Asia spends only 4.4 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health, while East Asia and the Pacific is only slightly better at 5 per cent. In contrast, 6.1 per cent is spent by Sub-Sahara Africa and 6.8 per cent by Latin America and the Caribbean.

Government spending on health was also lowest in the region, Mr. Kim told ESCAP’s annual session in Almaty. South Asia governments spend only 1.1 per cent of GDP on health, and East Asia and the Pacific 1.9 per cent. The figures for Sub-Sahara African, and for Latin America and the Caribbean, are 2.4 per cent and 3.3 per cent respectively.

“The high level of out-of-pocket expenditure by patients themselves had driven many people into poverty,” Mr. Kim observed.

In addition to more investment, governments must ensure that health systems are equitable and more accessible to the poor and the vulnerable, Mr. Kim said. “Countries that have come far towards achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are those which have ensured that all sections of the population have access to a minimum level of health care at an affordable cost,” said Mr. Kim, referring to global antipoverty targets.

For around 20 developing countries which spend less than $20 per person per year in health, an extra $25 billion a year is needed to enable them to meet the minimum requirement for basic health services, Mr Kim said.

“Political commitment is essential,” he stressed.