Cross Sectoral Actions Can Help Achieve Health Related MDGs, ADB VP Tells Tokyo Forum

TOKYO, JAPAN (21 June 2005) - There is ample evidence that cross-sectoral interventions can accelerate effective achievement of the Health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), ADB Vice President Khempeng Pholsena told a high-level forum today.

Ms. Pholsena was chairing a session on "Promoting Cross Sectoral Actions to Achieve the Health MDGs" in the "High-level Forum on Health MDGs in Asia and the Pacific."

The two-day high-level forum, hosted by the Government of Japan in cooperation with ADB, the World Bank, and World Health Organization, opened in Tokyo today. The forum provides an opportunity for dialogue between ministers and senior policymakers to accelerate progress on the health-related MDGs.

Ms. Pholsena said that while it is likely that the region as a whole will meet the Income MDG, the prospects for achieving the non-income MDGs - particularly those in relation to hunger, nutrition, maternal and child health, water and sanitation, and environmental sustainability - are far less encouraging.

It is estimated that the Asia and Pacific region today is home to 71% of those without access to improved sanitation, 58% of those without access to safe water, 56% of the undernourished and 54% of those living in slums, she pointed out.

"There is no doubt that this explains, at least in part, why the region accounts for 43% of the world's child mortality and an estimated 47.2% of the world's maternal mortality - a full 25.7% of global maternal mortality in India alone," Ms. Pholsena said.

"If we are to achieve all health-related MDGs, concerted and timely action by all of us will be required - both within our own organizations and countries and in mutually supportive partnerships at the global level and within the region as a whole."

She said that the United Nations' recent "Millennium Project Report" showed that actions that require collaboration among some combination of different sectors - including Agriculture, Communications, Education, Energy, Environment, Health, Public Works, and/or Water and Sanitation - have a powerful influence on health.

The ADB-backed Punjab Community Water Supply and Sanitation Project, for example, illustrates the cross-sectoral integration of hygiene education with capacity building and water supply and drainage infrastructure in order to, among other things, reduce the incidence of water borne diseases contracted especially by poor individuals and households.

Issues and opportunities in the road sector also well illustrate both cross-sectoral problems and opportunities with respect to Health MDGs. For instance, it is clear that the spread of HIV/AIDs and communicable diseases is facilitated by the improvement and expansion of road networks. In urban areas, about half a million people die prematurely every year in Asia from air pollution that is, to a substantial degree, caused by the increased density of vehicles that result from road improvements.

Ongoing efforts to identify and select natural rice seeds with higher iron, zinc, and Vitamin A content for fighting micro-nutrient deficiencies and a sub-regional initiative for Central Asia and Mongolia focusing on iron fortification of wheat flour and salt, on the other hand, are examples of cross-sectoral support from agro-industrial partnerships.

"Health is clearly a cross-cutting issue throughout all sectors of the economy. Achieving the Health MDGs is essential because they account for a full 75% of the overall [MDG] goals," Ms. Pholsena said.

"Healthier populations are more inclined to invest in higher levels of skills training for themselves and education for their children leading to higher permanent incomes. Improvements in health set in motion a virtuous cycle of rising incomes and poverty reduction."