Better Health Care Access for Mongolia's Poor Affected by Global Financial Crisis

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Government of Japan are financing a health and nutrition program in Mongolia to improve health care access by poor households affected by the global financial crisis.

The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction is providing a $3 million grant, to be coursed through ADB, for the design and implementation of a medicard program that will enable the poor to avail of free health services. Under the grant, micronutrients will also be distributed to at least 15,000 children under three years old in eight aimags or provinces to combat malnutrition.

"Ensuring the poor free access to essential health services is necessary to mitigate the impact of the global economic crisis," said Claude Bodart, senior health specialist of ADB's East Asia Department.

Declining prices in mineral exports brought about by the global economic crisis have sharply cut Mongolia's revenues, resulting in reduced public spending. This will have a particular impact on the poor who rely on affordable health and social assistance as basic coping strategies, especially in times of economic turmoil.

"The proposed medicard program will ensure free care for a range of services at designated primary health care facilities including hospitals, pharmacies, family group practices, and health centers," said Wendy Walker, social development specialist of ADB's East Asia Department.

The grant will identify beneficiaries of the medicard program and prepare its design, which will include a capacity development package and monitoring and evaluation tools to ensure its proper implementation. It will use existing institutional arrangements of the health insurance system to reimburse participating health facilities. The medicard program is a temporary program to cover the deficiencies of the current health insurance system.

The incidence of underweight children, under-5 mortality, stunting, wasting, anemia, and rickets is high in Mongolia as compared with the rest of Asia. Recent household surveys have shown that rapid increases in food prices and unstable supply have worsened maternal and child under-nutrition. In many instances, mothers starve themselves to protect their children. The grant will finance skills training and counseling on improving maternal, infant, and child nutrition.

The micronutrient distribution component will complement existing government programs in 13 out of the 21 aimags to prevent mother and child micronutrient deficiency. The distribution in the 8 aimags will result in nationwide coverage of micronutrient supplements.

The grant is linked to a recently-approved ADB-funded project "Mongolia Social Sectors Support Program".