Side Event

Joint Ministers of Finance and Health Symposium on Universal Health Coverage in Asia and the Pacific: COVID-19 and Beyond

Thursday, 17 September 2020, 11:00 am - 12:35 pm
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ADB, the Government of Japan, and the World Health Organization (WHO)’s regional offices in the Western Pacific and South East Asia jointly hosted the virtual Joint Ministers of Finance and Health Symposium as part of the 53rd Annual Meeting of the ADB Board of Governors (2nd Stage).

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across Asia and the Pacific has exposed the gaps and deficiencies in the region’s health systems and the interdependence between health security and economic stability. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of universal health coverage (UHC). During the symposium, ministers of finance and ministers of health from across the region described their country strategies and interventions for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic—highlighting the ways in which UHC supported their successful response. Innovative approaches for crisis response, safe reopening of economies, and inclusive recovery were shared.

Viet Nam highlighted its pandemic preparedness and prevention measures, indicating that at least 30% of the health budget is spent on preventive medicine. Sri Lanka underlined the “whole of government” approach it undertook to rapidly respond to the pandemic, which included collaboration across levels. The Philippines described the economic stimulus measures allocated to boost their health system and provide relief to sectors most affected by the pandemic, and stressed the current opportunity to support countries’ access to much needed COVID-19 vaccines. The Republic of Korea highlighted its robust surveillance system, access to testing, and flexible public health system as the cornerstones of its response. Indonesia described its budgetary adjustments and increased support to the national health insurance scheme in anticipation of increased health spending. New Zealand highlighted its alert system levels, and effective communications and isolation measures. Finally, Fiji shared the importance of communication and community screenings in pandemic response. Meanwhile, Japan also expressed their intent toward stronger collaboration to support UHC in the region.  

Country responses demonstrate how sustained, long-term investments in UHC have not only supported a more resilient and robust response to the pandemic and the delivery of essential health services, but also mitigated economic shock. At the end of the meeting, countries reiterated their commitment to UHC and building resilient pandemic preparedness and response systems. Over 40 ministers and high-level officials from ADB member countries attended the event.

Opening Remarks

Masatsugu AsakawaPresident of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Chairperson of ADB’s Board of Directors

Masatsugu Asakawa is the President of the Asian Development Bank and the Chairperson of ADB’s Board of Directors. He was elected President by ADB’s Board of Governors and assumed office on 17 January 2020.

Before joining ADB, he served as Special Advisor to Japan’s Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and has a professional career that spans nearly 4 decades in diverse fields such as international finance, development, and taxation at the Ministry of Finance.

Mr. Asakawa also worked for international organizations as the Chief Advisor to ADB President between 1989 and 1992, senior staff at the Fiscal Affairs Department of the IMF (1996–2000), and Chair for the Committee on Fiscal Affairs at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2011–2016).

Taro AsoGovernor for Japan, ADB; and Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, and Minister of State for Financial Services in Japan

Mr. Aso had previously served as Prime Minister, minister of foreign affairs, minister for internal affairs and communications, and minister of state, economic and fiscal policy of Japan.


Takeshi KasaiRegional Director of World Health Organization (WHO) – Western Pacific Regional Office (WPRO)

Takeshi Kasai was appointed regional director of WPRO in January 2019. He was previously director of program management, WPRO (2014-2019), WHO Representative to Viet Nam (2012-2014), director of the Division of Health Security, WPRO (2010-2012) and regional adviser, surveillance and response, WPRO (2006-2010). He was deputy director general, Health and Welfare Bureau in Miyzaki Prefecture, Japan, and medical officer in the International Affairs Division, Ministry of Health and Welfare and Iwate Prefectural Government, Japan. He has a PhD in medicine from Iwate Medical University in Japan. He completed his master’s in public health in London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and his medical doctor degree in Keio University School of Medicine, Japan.

Poonam Khetrapal SinghRegional Director of World Health Organization(WHO) – South East Asia Regional Office (SEARO)

Poonam Khetrapal Singh was appointed regional director, SEARO In January 2014. Prior to becoming regional director, she was advisor for international health in India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, deputy regional director of SEARO (2000-2013), and executive director, Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments, at the WHO headquarters (1998-2000). She was previously secretary of the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Punjab, India and is a member of the Indian Administrative Services. She is a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, Scotland and holds a PhD in public health. She also completed a master's in population studies from the International Institute of Population Sciences, India, a master's in health management from University of Birmingham, UK, and a master's in English literature from Kanpur University, India.

Patrick OseweChief of Health Sector Group, ADB

Patrick Osewe is the chief of the Health Sector Group at ADB. He provides leadership on policy, technical, and operational matters. In close collaboration with the Sector Committee, he leads the application of evidence based and innovative approaches to address priority and emerging health issues in Asia and the Pacific. Since the beginning of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Patrick has provided leadership and guidance in the implementation of ADB’s $20 billion commitment for pandemic response and recovery in Asia and the Pacific. His work related to COVID-19 includes convening global partners to reach consensus and prioritize investments, mobilizing leading private sector firms to support a range of response activities, and collaborating with International Air Transport Association, International Civil Aviation Organization, airlines, and hotels to safely restore travel and tourism industries based on available evidence. He has over 25 years of experience as a global leader in health, including having previously worked for the World Bank, USAID, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as providing technical support to UN agencies and countries in different parts of the world. Patrick holds an MD from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and a master of public health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health in the US.

Muhammad Ali PateGlobal Director, Health, Nutrition and Population (HNP) Global Practice, World Bank

Muhammad Ali Pate was appointed the global director of the Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice of the World Bank and director of the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents in May 2019. He was previously chief executive officer of Big Win Philanthropy, minister of state for health, and executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and professor in Duke University’s Global Health Institute. He was previously in the World Bank Group where he joined as a young professional in 2000 and worked on health issues in several regions including Africa and East Asia and Pacific. Mr. Pate is a medical doctor trained in internal medicine and infectious diseases, with an MBA from Duke University. He also has a master's in health system management from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK.

Finance Ministers

Tien Dung DinhMinister of Finance, Viet Nam

Mr. Dinh was appointed minister of finance of Viet Nam in May 2013. He leads the Ministry of Finance in managing the national budget, finances of state corporations, state borrowing, and stock markets activities. Having set out to improve the investment environment in Viet Nam and its growth prospects, his priorities include boosting economic restructuring to foster innovation, labor productivity, and economic competitiveness. Under his leadership, the finance sector reaped many successful results, most notably in the areas of public financial reform, institutional and administrative procedures reform, and apparatus reform of the financial sector. Prior to heading the Ministry of Finance, he was the state general auditor of Viet Nam and held various roles within the Ministry of Construction. He has been a National Assembly deputy since 2016. He holds a PhD in economics.

Carlos G. DominguezGovernor for the Philippines, ADB; and Secretary, Department of Finance in the Philippines

Carlos G. Dominguez has over 40 years of experience in public and private industries such as power, agriculture, mining, banking, hospitality, real estate, and investment. Mr. Dominguez was appointed cabinet secretary thrice: he served as secretary of environment and natural resources from 1986-1987, secretary of agriculture from 1987-1989, and is currently secretary of finance since 2016. Under his leadership, the Department of Finance reached record government revenues and embarked on a comprehensive tax reform program to create a more efficient tax system.

Suahasil NazaraVice Minister of Finance, Indonesia

Suahasil Nazara is the vice minister of finance of Indonesia. He has also served as a member of the Fiscal Decentralization Expert Team for the finance minister from 2009 to 2011; chair of the Economics Department, Faculty of Economics of Universitas Indonesia from 2009 to 2013; vice chair of the Regional Autonomy Supervisory Committee since 2009; policy group coordinator of the Poverty Reduction Acceleration National Team Secretariat in the Vice President's Office since 2010; and board member of the National Economic Committee from 2013 to 2014. He was inducted head of the Fiscal Policy Agency in October 2016. He earned his bachelor's degree in economics from Universitas Indonesia, his master's degree from Cornell University, United States, and PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, also in the United States.

Health Ministers

Yasumasa FukushimaVice-Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare, Japan

Yasumasa Fukushima was appointed vice-minister of health, labor, and welfare in August 2020 and is concurrently chief medical and global health officer. He was previously director deneral of the Health Service Bureau, focusing on health promotion measures, infectious diseases, and disaster healthcare measures. He also served as director general of the Saitama Prefecture Higashi Matsuyama Public Health Center, director of the Mental Health and Disability Health Division, director of the Tuberculosis and lnfectious Diseases Control Division, and deputy director-general of Health Policy Bureau. In 2018, he was appointed president of National Institute of Public Health. He is a graduate of the Kumamoto University School of Medicine, Japan.

Christopher John HipkinsMinister of Health, New Zealand

Christopher John Hipkins was appointed interim minister of health last 2 July 2020 and is concurrently minister of education and minister of states services. He has been a member of the New Zealand Parliament for Remutaka since 2008. He has been an advisor for the Industry Training Federation, Treveor Mallard, and Helen Clark. He completed a bachelor of arts degree majoring in politics and criminology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He also holds a national certificate in adult education and training, and a postgraduate certificate in public policy from Victoria University of Wellington.

Neung-hoo ParkMinister of Health and Welfare, Republic of Korea

Neung-hoo Park was appointed minister of health and welfare of the Republic of Korea in July 2017. Prior to this, he was professor in the Department of Social Welfare at Kyonggi University, Republic of Korea, where he focused on studying poverty and social welfare for over three decades in academia. He completed his economics degree and master's in political science in Seoul National University and earned his PhD in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley in the US.

Pavithra WanniarachchiMinister of Women and Child Affairs, Social Security, Health, and Indigenous Medicine, Sri Lanka

Pavithra Wanniarachchi was appointed to her current position in 2019. A member of Parliament representing the Ratnapura District since 1994, she was deputy minister of health, highways, social services, and welfare from 1994 to 1998; deputy minister of health and indigenous medicine from 1998 to 2000; minister of samurdhi and poverty alleviation from 2004 to 2007; minister of youth affairs from 2007 to 2010; minister of technology and atomic research from 2010 to 2013; and minister of power and energy from 2013 to 2015. She completed her law degree at the Sri Lanka Law College.

Ifereimi WaqainabeteMinister for Health and Medical Services, Fiji

Ifereimi Waqainabete is the minister of health and medical services and a member of the Parliament of Fiji. Prior to this, he was a general surgeon in Fiji and associate professor of general surgery at Fiji National University, president of the Fiji Medical Association, president of the Pacific Island Surgeons Association, and chair of Fiji Medicinal Board. He obtained his MBBS as well as his master of medicine in surgery from the Fiji School of Medicine, Fiji National University.


Gabriel LeungDean, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong (HKU)

Gabriel Leung was appointed dean of medicine of HKU in 2013. He is the inaugural Helen and Francis Zimmern professor of population health and is also the chair of public health medicine. He was previously the head of community medicine of HKU from 2012 to 2013 and undersecretary of food and health of Hong Kong, China from 2008 to 2011. Mr. Leung is one of Asia's leading epidemiologists and global health exponents, having authored more than 500 scholarly papers, including ones on COVID-19, SARS, and avian influenza. He regularly advises national and international agencies including the World Health Organization, World Bank, ADB, Boao Forum for Asia, Institut Pasteur, Japan Center for International Exchange, and China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He completed his medical degree at the University of Western Ontario and his family medicine residency training in Toronto, both in Canada. He earned a master's from Harvard University, United States, and research doctorate from HKU.