New Programs Are Aiding Healthcare in Southeast Asia


SEATTLE, Washington — The rising level of education and the recent financial difficulties in Southeast Asia have illuminated some of the region’s deficiencies in its healthcare systems. Private healthcare has heavily dominated the system and kept many people in poverty and unable to afford medical bills. This issue has only grown since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led several Southeast Asian countries to develop new systems that rely on a mixture of both public and private healthcare. Many of these have seen positive results for the poor. Healthcare in Southeast Asia can be a model system for other regions facing similar issues.

Lack of Affordable Healthcare

Previously, the poor in countries like Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines were not able to afford healthcare. The premiums under private companies were too high, and visits to private hospitals were too expensive. This put people in a terrible situation where they must choose whether to go into debt or to take care of a sickness or injury.

In these and other Southeast Asian countries, private-for-profit healthcare accounts for more than “53% of the $420 billion healthcare market.” Many people identify the benefit of private healthcare systems as they can provide people with more personalized and far-reaching treatment. However, the downside is unpayable fees and a lack of trust in government systems.

A Lack of Healthcare Workers

Recently, Southeast Asian countries have worked to create more public hospitals so that people can receive treatment even if they do not have the money to pay for it at a private hospital. Some of these solutions are public-private hospitals in Malaysia and Indonesia, which are able to retain fees while being able to choose their prices so that costs can stay down.

Furthermore, countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia have created incentives for sought-after doctors and nurses to work in public services. These types of workers often work in private facilities or are employed in foreign countries. Despite training many medical workers, countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have trouble retaining them. For example, around 85% (193,000) of all Filipino nurses work abroad. As a result, many facilities are left understaffed. However, these governments are allowing these workers to supplement their salaries in the private sector while still working in public facilities so they can continue to help those who need treatment they cannot afford.

Healthcare and Poverty

Having access to public healthcare has shown to reduce poverty in Southeast Asia, according to the World Health Organization. However, it is a challenge to implement a social healthcare system into a network already controlled by private hospitals. Without much funding, it is hard to assure quality service for all. With an interest in public healthcare rising, the Southeast Asian countries must implement new tools for keeping the private sector from eliminating public services.

Countries like Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand have all developed new funds for supplying healthcare to the poor. These health equity funds seek to pay for treatment for those who cannot afford it, have been working well, and have greatly increased the numbers of those who can pay for treatment. Furthermore, WHO has been quite active in Southeast Asia. It has made great progress in its goal to bring universal healthcare to the region. It does so by working with local governments to make healthcare accessible as well as coordinate disaster relief. Since 2014, WHO has had the goal of providing accessible healthcare to one billion people in Southeast Asia.

This is a good step, but it is still necessary to strengthen the public sector to the point that it can keep up with the private healthcare industry in Southeast Asia. This can be done through regulations and with larger funds. These programs in Southeast Asia are key in keeping many people out of poverty and in good health.

Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr


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