Finance and health ministers from across Asia-Pacific stressed the importance of universal health coverage (UHC) but also the need for collaboration to boost healthcare financing during the 53rd Annual Asian Development Bank (ADB) meeting on Thursday.

Speaking via video link from Manila, ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa affirmed the bank’s support for UHC as a foundation of strong health systems.

“We have to build health systems where people from all walks of life, including the elderly, the poor, and the vulnerable, can access health services at an affordable cost while maintaining these health systems’ financial sustainability – even in ageing societies that many countries in Asia and the Pacific are heading toward,” Asakawa said.

“In this regard, close collaboration between finance and health ministers is crucial for our member economies to provide cost-effective, inclusive, and high-quality health interventions, underpinned by sustainable finance,” he told ministers at the online “Symposium on Universal Health Coverage in Asia and the Pacific: Covid-19 and Beyond”.

In his opening video message, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said: 

“We will strengthen our collaboration with ADB, expecting that ADB, as the regional family doctor, would uncover the assistance needs of the region and play a leading role in promoting UHC.”

The symposium was organised by the ADB, World Health Organisation (WHO) and Japanese government to outline concrete actions that build on UHC commitments at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Osaka in June 2019 and at the United Nations’ High-Level meeting in New York in September 2019.

Each year, the cost of healthcare drives tens of millions of people in Asia and the Pacific into poverty, the ADB noted. During the pandemic, countries that have achieved UHC, or are close to it, have been able to mobilise critical disease prevention and control measures, such as risk communication, testing, contact tracing, and isolation.

Health and finance ministers from Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam on Thursday shared lessons and successful strategies in their battles against Covid-19, also discussing UHC’s role in strengthening resilience to health and economic shocks. 

Covid-19 exposed significant gaps in Asia-Pacific countries’ preparedness and response capacities, as well as the link between health security and economic stability, said the bank.

To help meet these gaps, under Strategy 2030 ADB has committed to support the efforts of its developing members to pursue and achieve UHC by providing technical advice and increasing the share of health operations to 3-5 per cent of total commitments from the 2019 share of 2.66 per cent.