A question was raised at the start of APEC’s annual High-Level Meeting on Health & the Economy this August in Port Moresby: why does a forum dedicated to regional economic integration hold forums dedicated to health?
The answer, as explained by Sarah Lawley, APEC Health Working Group Co-Chair, is simple – “without health, there is no wealth; there is no economic prosperity without healthy populations.”
The HWG’s work on health issues began 15 years ago as a means to enhancing cooperation between APEC’s 21-member economies to prevent the spread of infectious diseases across borders in an increasingly interconnected region.
“But as time has progressed, we’ve morphed our priorities,” Lawley said, “to be more balanced between those of preparedness for infectious diseases and working collectively on some of the really big health challenges impacting our economies.”
At the meeting, APEC health and life sciences officials together with representatives from international organizations, academia, patient groups, and the private sector explored ways in which primary health care can be strengthened using innovative technologies, financing and multi-sectoral partnerships. At a time where the demand for health care is evolving rapidly in the Asia-Pacific region due to its fast-aging population and a growing number of people living with chronic conditions, participants recognized that strong primary health care systems are the foundation for achieving sustainable and high-performing health systems. To meet the challenge of these demographic and epidemiological shifts, APEC is working to strengthen primary care systems through a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.
“Economies in the region are eager to explore innovative models to increase access to healthcare and create the right policy environment for innovation in the health and life sciences sector,” Erika Elvander, chair of the Life Sciences Innovation Forum Planning Group which co-organized the event. “We can accomplish more working together which is why our engagement in APEC which brings together governments, industry, academia, civil society and others is so important.”
One of the challenges for achieving universal health coverage is ensuring that everyone – especially people in vulnerable communities and remote areas – has access to high adequate health services and high-quality medicines delivered by well trained and competent health staff close to their homes and communities.
“Papua New Guinea has a long experience of accepting the critical importance of primary healthcare and has long shaped its workforce to provide primary care through our extensive network of aid posts and community health centers,” Dr Puka Temu, Papua New Guinea’s Health Minister, said to his counterparts from across the Asia-Pacific.
“It is essential that financial investments are not just for facilities but are directed at promoting and supporting a model of continuing care, where primary services can be provided where people live,” he said, “It is only in an environment in which hospital and community services are managed as one service that this is possible.”
Health officials also discussed mobilizing domestic funding for health by re-envisioning such commitments as investment cases and introducing innovative financing mechanisms, including private funding and external support. APEC economies explored using public and private financing and the policy and regulatory environments that facilitate successful novel financing schemes.
“The effective delivery of primary health care is fundamental,” Minister Temu continued. “It is the best investment that can be made to ensure healthy and productive economies.”
“This will only happen if people share a common vision of what can be achieved,” he concluded.