Across the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), there are over 500 special economic, industrial and border zones (not including the People’s Republic of China), with the majority of them being located in Viet Nam. Many are strategically located along or near the established GMS economic corridors. The estimated population associated with economic and industrial development and border areas of economic corridors is well over 50 million people.

As these economic hubs tend to be located outside of capital regions, infrastructure (e.g., roads and hospitals), services (health testing and treatment) and knowledge, and attitudes and practices around health and determinants of health (e.g., waste management, safe driving practices) are generally less developed than in urban settings. Also, current priorities in these areas are focused on cross-border collaboration opportunities. As such, transient populations are to be expected. The very nature of business within economic zones also vary, both by industry type and by nationality. These economic areas are, and will continue to be, culturally diverse locations. Taking all this into consideration, economic zones and areas hold unique risks to local communities and workers if left unidentified and unmanaged. In contrast, well designed and managed economic zones and areas pose considerable opportunities for economic and social development, alongside health improvements in local populations.

The GMS Urban Development Strategic Framework 2015 has prioritized development of border economic zones. The Ha Noi Action Plan 2018–2022 which was endorsed by the 6th GMS Summit in Viet Nam on 31 March 2018 also highlighted the importance of border economic zones in GMS. Recent work by ADB on economic zone management has resulted in the development of a health framework for identifying, mitigating and managing health risks and maximizing health opportunities specific to economic and industrial areas across the GMS. Country specific guidelines for identifying, mitigating and managing health risks associated with special economic zones in Lao PDR and Thailand have also been finalized. This initiative has involved facilitating several governmental meetings with relevant ministries (ministry of public health; ministry of planning and investment; ministry of environment, and others). In November 2017, a GMS-wide consultation forum brought together ministry of health, environment and planning and investment officials from five GMS counties to agree on core health risks that should be addressed in economic zone development. In March 2018, ADB facilitated a bi-lateral meeting on managing health risks and opportunities in special economic zones between the Lao PDR and Thailand. At these meetings, there was agreement that critical health risks stemming from such development can be transboundary in nature and require a collaborative and harmonized health management approach for economic zones and areas across GMS countries for effective management. A health impact assessment (HIA) framework has emerged as the acceptable economic zone management support tool to achieve this goal.

ADB is currently working with all five GMS countries (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam) to develop country capacity for health impact assessment as it relates to economic zone development through technical assistance support (R-CDTA 8763: Results for Malaria Elimination and Control of Communicable Disease Threats in Asia and the Pacific, with a focus on the GMS. This is funded through the Regional Malaria and Other Communicable Disease Threats Trust Fund, with the Government of Australia, the Government of Canada, and the Government of the United Kingdom as financing partners). This initiative is well-coordinated with ADB regional departments and resident missions. In a related discussion with ADB's Regional Cooperation and Operation Coordination Division/Southeast Asia Department (SERC/SERD), it was agreed that a regional forum will be organized to enable a harmonized health impact assessment approach to address economic zone development needs. This is consistent with ADB priority of fostering regional cooperation and integration and strengthening sub-regional initiatives. The regional forum will be an opportunity to discuss on innovations in the development and management of economic zones and border areas. This is proposed to be held in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam from 16–17 August 2018.

The main objective of the forum is to share member country experiences to date as it relates to addressing health risks and opportunities in relation to economic zone and border area development. A key outcome will be a regional alignment on strategies to maximize health opportunities and mitigate trans-boundary and other health risks specific to economic zone and border developments.

Specific objectives

  • To improve regional and national understanding of economic zone and border development along with health risks and opportunities across the GMS.
  • To share innovative approaches recently developed and adopted to develop and manage healthy economic zones and border areas.
  • To share future visions for people’s health in economic and border areas across the GMS.

Expected outcomes

  • Improved cross-disciplinary understanding of health risks, challenges and opportunities associated with economic zone and border development; and
  • Support for a harmonized approach to manage health risks associated with economic zone and border development across the GMS countries.

Expected outputs

  • Broader economic zone and border area worker and health profiles
  • More accurate profile of workers, especially female workers in economic zones and border development areas
  • A deeper understanding of current management strategies in economic zones and border development areas targeting health risks and opportunity
  • Agreement on core elements and processes needed to manage health risks and optimize health opportunities

Target participants

  • Special economic zone authorities and ministry of planning and investment officials from across the GMS
  • Ministry of health, ministry of environment and other relevant ministries and national stakeholders from each GMS country who have engaged in previous ADB work on addressing health and environmental issues in Special economic zones
  • ADB staff including from resident missions, and ADB consultants
  • Other development agencies and partners

Resource speakers

ADB staff, ADB consultants, and government officials involved.

How to register

By invitation only

Event organizers/partners

ADB is an international development finance institution whose vision is an Asia and Pacific region free of poverty. ADB’s mission is to help its DMCs reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of their people. ADB is committed to reducing poverty through inclusive growth, environmentally sustainable growth and regional integration. Following the midterm review of its corporate Strategy 2020, ADB decided to increase its health sector operations, as guided by its Operational Plan for Health 2015–2020, to further support inclusive growth in its DMCs.

Event Contact

  • Susann Roth (Dr) Senior Social Development Specialist; Health SG, Sector Advisory Service Cluster Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Asian Development Bank +63 2 632 4444 E-mail contact form