During its 125-year anniversary celebrations, Roche is hosting a series of live events to inspire and stimulate fresh thinking on healthcare. On 5 September, three eminent panellists debate the urgent challenges of access to healthcare in Asia.
Fortune of birth
Access to healthcare varies dramatically from one country to another, and region to region within those countries. This is as true of Asia, as it is the rest of the world. The pandemic and economic volatility have only exacerbated these problems, making both basic and emergency health services ever harder for many communities to access.
As the World Bank states in a recent report: “Universal health coverage is key to ending extreme poverty and increasing equity and shared prosperity.” And access to quality essential healthcare services is a vital part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Both the World Bank and the UN, however, caution that recent events have halted progress towards universal healthcare. So how can corporations like Roche, national governments, health organisations and communities re-energize this global effort? How can people’s lives be improved through innovation? And how can we build a healthier future in which geographical obstacles to health disappear entirely?
Through their diverse perspectives and experiences, these are questions that the LifeTalk panellists are uniquely qualified to answer.
Dr Ratna Devi is a medical doctor, public health expert and patient advocate. She is the co-founder and CEO of DakshamA Health and Education, building networks of caregivers and patients while campaigning for greater healthcare access. Dr Devi leads the Indian Alliance of Patient Groups.
“To me, access to healthcare means high quality, safe healthcare for every person who needs it, irrespective of geographic location, socioeconomic status or ethnicity,” says Dr Devi. “As a patient advocate, I feel patients and caregivers should have a stronger say in healthcare policies. Patient advocates need the right knowledge and skills, with better participation by patients and patient groups. In maternal healthcare in India, for example, there is an urgent need for cohesive action among hospitals, healthcare workers, the pharma ecosystem, civil society and the government.”
“To me, access to basic healthcare means availability for all humans around the world no matter where they live, no matter what they do and no matter what their beliefs are,” says Muniba Mazari Baloch, a Pakistani artist, model, and motivational speaker named one of the 100 Inspirational Women of 2015 by the BBC.
To achieve access for all, Mazari Baloch argues that acceptance is key. “I want to see a world where differences are not just tolerated but are celebrated. And by making this world accessible, we’ll ensure that healthcare is equally accessible to all.”
Left paralysed in a car accident at the age of 21, Mazari Baloch was bed-ridden for two years. She took up painting, adopted a son, and gave a widely praised TED talk in 2014. A year later, she was appointed the first UN Goodwill Ambassador for Women Pakistan and in 2019 joined Pakistan’s first ever National Youth Council.
According to Mazari Baloch, better healthcare in remote communities can save lives. “Healthcare access for differently-abled people should be free because so many are unable to work and can’t afford medical care,” she says. “Everyone has the right to live a dignified and healthy life.”
Co-founder of the hugely successful music group Black Eyed Peas with his school friend will.i.am, Apl.de.Ap was born in the Philippines. At the age of 14 he moved to Los Angeles in California to seek treatment for nystagmus, a condition causing involuntary movement of the eyes.
“I am the embodiment of a once in a million situation where someone in the Philippines got to see a world class specialist,” says Apl.de.Ap. “We have to train doctors and specialists in developing countries so that one does not have to go all the way to the US for world class treatment. My Foundation donates equipment and trains specialists in the Philippines and I’d like to think that in future, everyone should have access to reliable and affordable treatment, to be able to see a doctor whenever necessary and not have to go poor doing so.”
Joining the panellists at the LifeTalk event, Oxford-educated Khairy Jamaluddin has served as Malaysian Minister of Health since 2021. He argues that unequal distribution of equipment, capacity and skills between the public and private sectors “contributes to gaps in coverage across state and urban-rural lines” in Malaysia. He is determined to forge closer partnerships between public and private sectors, to enhance access to healthcare for all.
The worldwide disruption of the pandemic forced governments and healthcare professionals to re-evaluate their structures and operations. It created myriad opportunities for new collaborations and technological solutions, and for greater accessibility, transparency and information sharing.
Today’s challenge is for these opportunities to be crystallised into positive action and policy. With the support of advocates like Apl.de.Ap, Dr Ratna Devi, Muniba Mazari Baloch and Khairy Jamaluddin, alongside the work of corporations like Roche, there is a new optimism that good health need no longer depend on the random fate of geography.
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