Welcome remarks by Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, at the Southeast Asia Development Symposium 2021 Plenary on COVID-19 Health Response and Recovery, 18 March 2021  

Honorable Minister of Health, Budi Gunadi Sadkin, Dr. Richard Hatchett from CEPI, Dr. Ayesha Khanna of ADDO AI, partners from the private sector, distinguished guests, ADB colleagues, good afternoon.

It has been a year since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. We saw how countries around the globe struggled to respond to the disruptions and unforeseen challenges to public health and their economies.  

In Southeast Asia, the surge of confirmed cases has reached 2.5 million, with more than 54,000 deaths. Among those hardest hits were Indonesia, with 1.37 million confirmed cases, followed by the Philippines with over 591,000 cases. About 2% of global COVID-19 cases and deaths occurred in Southeast Asia. And everyone’s life was challenged.

The pandemic continues to impose public health restrictions that hurt our economies. We estimate that the GDP of Southeast Asia contracted by 12.7% in 2020, which may further drop by 11% in 2021. This equals GDP losses of $374 billion in 2020 and an additional $322 billion this year. The pandemic affected the jobs of 30 million people across the region with unemployment rising to 7.1%. Meanwhile, the decline in private investment and consumption is a major challenge to economic recovery in the region.  

Amidst all the challenges, we now have cause for optimism as the vaccines have become available. We just hope that widespread vaccine distribution will happen soon to help “steady the ship” and bring the pandemic under control. Once vaccination is underway, countries can then intensify their focus on a post-pandemic recovery. 

ADB has launched a $9 billion Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility (or APVAX).  It has a Rapid Response Component for timely vaccine and logistics procurement; and a Project Investment Component that supports health system capacity building and infrastructure investment. 

On March 12, the first APVAX project of $400 million was approved to support the Philippines to procure safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. Another $450 million APVAX project for Indonesia is in its final stage of preparation. There are also continuing talks with other Southeast Asian countries to see how APVAX can help. 

Together with financing, ADB offers technical assistance to help our developing members procure and deploy vaccines so that more lives will be saved, and herd immunity will be reached. This assistance includes: 

  • conducting economic and health system assessments;
  • strengthening regional and country-specific immunization information systems that can track and report vaccine-related problems; and
  • funding health security projects that address communicable disease.

It also supports a risk communication program that encourages good practices and helps address vaccine hesitancy among the population. Further, it builds the capacity of health workers to deliver the vaccines and helps find solutions to logistical challenges. 

ADB has been actively providing knowledge support to help Asia and the Pacific respond to and recover from the effects of the pandemic. We have issued timely reports, working papers, policy briefs and multimedia information tools. We also conducted a wide range of virtual events. One example in the health sector is the hosting of “Joint Ministers of Finance and Health Symposium on Universal Health Coverage (UHC)” in September 2020. Recognizing that countries with a strong UHC were best equipped to implement effective health response to the pandemic, ADB offered this platform for countries to share experiences and discuss strategies to accelerate the progress towards UHC. 

Knowledge initiatives in the health sector were part and parcel of ADB’s broader set of knowledge work to support our countries’ socio-economic recovery. I stop at giving just one example of our COVID-19 Policy Database, which was launched in April 2020 and is continuously updated twice a month. It tracks the economic and non-economic measures implemented by the governments of the ADB members and others to support countries enhance their policy responses.

To find solutions to the most pressing challenge of today, like this vaccine access, we need to harness innovation and collaboration across broad partners. In today’s world where face-to-face interaction is restricted, innovative information technology has a key role to play in delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines. For example, we are exploring the possible use of drones to deliver vaccines to remote areas. We also track real-time vaccine distribution and coverage. 

Technology also helps us address the long-standing health system challenges.  For example, we at ADB are leveraging online tools to provide virtual training for health workers as part of our support to government measures to strengthen health systems. ADB is committed to helping ASEAN countries develop the capacity required for vaccine procurement and the needed financial management skills. 

Lastly, ADB is proactively seeking ways to expand our collaboration with partners. Only when we join hands as partners in a global community can we turn this crisis into opportunity. We are co-financing our vaccine work with other multilateral development banks and also working closely with technical agencies like the WHO and UNICEF, to name just two.

In closing, let us all take this once-in-a-lifetime event to build back for a better future for the people of Southeast Asia. Let us focus on building a safe and prosperous Southeast Asia where no one is left behind.  I wish you all a very successful and constructive plenary session. Thank you.


    Susantono , Bambang
    Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development