APEC and a healthier future

Will the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) deliver on its promises, at least with regards to healthcare delivery and promoting innovations and advances in medicine, science and technology?

We hope it does. We don’t want to remember the recent APEC summit as the week of the most horrendous traffic ever to be experienced in Manila, Makati, Pasay, and Paranaque, plus all the other inconveniences it caused.

Commuting to work seemed like taking a long-haul trans-Atlantic flight; and mothers-in-labor had to deliver in make-shift first-aid clinics, or even on the sidewalk because the ambulances could also not squeeze itself through the traffic jam.

But all these would be a small price to pay if we see some concrete evidences that all its commitments are being implemented and delivered effectively, so its goals of inclusive growth and real universal health coverage would be achieved.

The APEC member-economies were reported to have shared best-practices on how to develop sustainable and high performing health systems that promote health development and well-being through a holistic approach that can effectively achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC)—which the past health secretary, Dr. Enrique Ona called as Kalusugang Pangkalahatan.

The ministers also reiterated the five critical success factors in overcoming health challenges: (a) securing a whole-of-government commitment to health; (b) establishing platforms for policy dialogue and stakeholder engagement; (c) promoting prevention, control and awareness in health care; (d) enabling innovation; and (e) enhancing intersectoral and cross-border collaboration.

Ensuring that our workforce remains healthy and competitive was also stressed in the joint commitment.

We’ll see in the next few months and years if the APEC and the individual country members are really putting their money where their mouth is. Everything looks good on paper, but what really matters and trickles down to the masses for inclusive growth and welfare to be felt is the actual delivery of the commitment and translation to meaningful day-to-day health benefits.

The member nations should individually report on their progress in achieving their committed goals. Doing this should exert pressure on each country to deliver as they promised. Those who performed well should share generously their best-practices so the ones lagging behind don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They could just build on these best practices; tweak them, and apply them to their respective countries.

The APEC leaders themselves admit that the member economies have not been faring equally well in some of the parameters they had set previously; and it’s likely that this is so with regards to their health agenda. Just as global economic performance has remained modest and uneven overall, so is healthcare delivery.

It’s just appropriate that the APEC also puts a priority on its health goals. The Asia-Pacific continues to be the world’s most dynamic region, not only when it comes to economic parameters, but also with regards to healthcare, particularly in the area of non-communicable diseases or NCDs. It’s projected that the region will bear the brunt of the raging NCD threat, which has now virtually become a pandemic, killing the most number of people; and imposing such a huge social, physical and economic burden to society and the families with afflicted members.

The sooner the APEC commitments on health are executed and delivered, the better for everyone in the Asia Pacific, so our children and children’s children can really look forward to a healthier future.

Vital Signs Issue 81 Vol. 4, November 1-30 2015