Asia Pacific should reduce inequalities in access to care for the most marginalised groups

Access to healthcare has improved in the Asia Pacific region over the past decade but women in low-income households in rural areas still have difficulty accessing care due to distance and financial reasons, according to a new OECD report.

Health at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2018 – Measuring Progress Towards Universal Health Coverage says that in Cambodia, Nepal, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands, more than three women in four with the lowest household income reported difficulties in accessing healthcare due to financial reasons. In Nepal, Pakistan and the Solomon Islands, about two women in three from worst-off households reported having unmet care needs due to distance.

The report reveals that life expectancy has increased by almost six years since 2000 to reach 70 years across lower-middle and low-income Asia Pacific countries, but maternal mortality is still twice the Sustainable Development Goal target in these countries.

The report also tells that the infant mortality rate has fallen dramatically across the lower-middle and low-income Asia Pacific countries since 2000, with many countries experiencing declines of greater than 50%. But at an average of 30 deaths per 1 000 live births, infant mortality rate in these countries is still eight times that of the high income Asia Pacific countries and OECD average, and two and a half times the SDG target of 12 deaths per 1 000 live births.

Many countries in the region face a double burden of disease, as they still struggle to reduce maternal and child deaths at a time when the prevalence of chronic conditions and unhealthy lifestyle is growing. More than one third of adults are overweight in Asia Pacific, and one in ten persons is obese, according to the report. Among children, 5% of under age 5 and more than 20% of adolescents are overweight. Between 2010 and 2016, obesity rates increased by 33% among adults and 58% among adolescents.

Other findings of Health at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2018 include:

Between 2000 and 2015, the average maternal mortality rate across lower-middle and low-income Asia Pacific countries was cut by more than half, but is still high at 140 deaths per 100 000 live births, twice the SDG target of 70 deaths per 100 000 live births.

In high-income Asia Pacific countries, the share of the population aged over 65 years is expected to double, to reach an average of 27.6% in 2050, whereas the share of population aged over 80 years is expected to triple to reach 10.2%. In upper-middle income and lower-middle low-income Asia Pacific countries, the share of population over 65 and over 80 will be two and a half and four times the current share, and reach 23.9% and 14.5% (over 65) and 7.9% and 3.5% (over 80) respectively.

Lower-middle and low-income Asia Pacific countries spend just under USD 200 per person per year on health, against USD 670 and USD 3 450 in upper-middle income and high-income countries respectively. This amounts to over 4.3% of gross domestic product, on average, in middle- and low-income countries, compared to over 7.3% in high-income countries in 2015. Spending in high-income countries increased by 0.8 percentage points from 2010-2015, twice the increase reported by middle- and low-income countries at 0.4 percentage points.

On average, household out-of-pocket expenditure accounted for 48.2% of total health expenditure in lower-middle and low-income Asia Pacific countries in 2015, an increase of one percentage point from 2010. Spending on pharmaceuticals accounted for almost one third of all health expenditure across these countries in 2015.

Disparities in the use of essential services based on income and education remain large. For example, the divide in access to antenatal care between women in low-income and high-income households remains quite large in Bangladesh, Lao PDR and Pakistan, and in Indonesia, Lao PDR and the Philippines inequalities in the proportion of children with immunisation coverage whose mother has high education compared to no education are large with a difference of more than 50%.

Health at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2018, a joint publication of the OECD with the World Health Organisation, presents key indicators on health status, determinants of health, healthcare resources and utilisation, health expenditure and financing, and quality of care for 27 Asia/Pacific countries and territories. This report offers a comprehensive and user-friendly framework to help policy makers make further progress towards improving coverage, access and financial protection of population across the Asia Pacific region.