Opening Remarks by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank, at the Joint Ministers of Finance and Health Symposium on Universal Health Coverage in Asia and the Pacific: COVID-19 and Beyond, 17 September 2020

I. Introduction

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, Finance Ministers, Health Ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

It is an honor and a privilege to open this Joint Ministers of Finance and Health Symposium on Universal Health Coverage in Asia and the Pacific: COVID-19 and Beyond.

In June 2019 when I was still with Japan’s Ministry of Finance, I helped organize the highly impactful G20 Ministers of Finance and Health Meeting. This included the preparation of the G20 Shared Understanding on the Importance of UHC Financing in Developing Countries. By bringing together the ministers of finance and health, we have seen how such joint meetings can help mobilize sustained financing for universal health coverage (UHC)—a priority of many countries. 

As President of the Asian Development Bank, let me show my renewed commitment that ADB makes all-out efforts in helping countries fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, while continuing to support governments in Asia and the Pacific build and evolve UHC as a foundation of strong and sustainable health systems.

II. COVID-19 in Asia and the Pacific

The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant threat to development and poverty reduction in Asia and the Pacific. As of today, our region has nearly six million people infected and more than 100,000 deaths, with the majority being elderly people or those with underlying chronic health conditions. The outbreak has led to closed borders, decreased trade and investments, and reduced tourism, which resulted in massive loss of jobs. ADB estimates that three quarters of our DMCs will experience economic contraction in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

III. ADB support for tackling COVID-19 

ADB has been assisting its developing economies in the fight against COVID-19 from the earliest stages of the outbreak. We provided grant resources to help governments procure urgently-needed medical and personal protective equipment and testing kits. Then in April, we announced a $20 billion package of assistance. As of mid September, ADB has committed about $11.2 billion for COVID-19 operations. Of this, $8.2 billion was provided through quick disbursing budget support under a new financing modality called the COVID-19 Pandemic Response Option or CPRO. In addition, cofinancing worth about $7.2 billion was mobilized.

Developing economies have used our loan, grant and technical assistance to support increased testing and treatment of COVID-19, expand risk communications and upgrade health infrastructure, including isolation facilities and critical care units. We have supported vulnerable populations including women and children by helping governments to expand their social protection schemes. Our timely support to the private sector also helped ensure that essential medical supplies and personal protective equipment are manufactured and delivered.

In close collaboration with development partners, we are supporting developing economies in accessing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines at affordable cost and improving their vaccine delivery systems. Taken together, this support is helping countries manage and mitigate the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

IV. The necessity of building and evolving UHC

As we help countries address the pandemic, we should not lose sight of the challenges of the rising burden of non-communicable diseases, worsening income inequality, changing demography, and deteriorating fiscal sustainability. We have to build health systems where people from all walks of life, including the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable, can access health services at an affordable cost while maintaining these health systems' financial sustainability—even in aging societies that many countries in Asia and the Pacific are heading toward. Our collective experience of the fight against the pandemic speaks volumes about why we must also ensure that UHC is financially sustainable and inclusive to all. 

In this regard, close collaboration between finance and health ministers is crucial for our member economies to provide cost-effective, inclusive and high quality health interventions, underpinned by sustainable finance.

Once again, ADB remains committed to strengthening health systems with the goal of reaching UHC and I hope that today’s symposium will help all participants gain practical knowledge and sustained high-level momentum to achieve and evolve UHC.

V. Conclusion

To conclude, let me acknowledge the excellent collaboration between the Government of Japan, World Health Organization, and ADB in furthering dialogue on UHC in Asia and the Pacific. Let me reaffirm to you today that ADB stands ready to continue providing our DMCs with sustained support to fight COVID-19 and achieve universal health coverage.

Thank you very much.