Opening remarks by ADB President Takehiko Nakao at the Conference on Measuring and Achieving Universal Health Coverage with ICT in Asia and the Pacific on 2–3 December 2014 in ADB Headquarters, Manila,  Philippines(as drafted).

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to welcome you to this conference on Measuring and Achieving Universal Health Coverage with ICT in Asia and the Pacific. I would like to thank the conference co-organizers: the World Health Organization, and the Asian eHealth Information Network.

Today I want to talk to you about three issues: First, why strong health systems are important for development in Asia and the Pacific. Second, why information and communication technology - ICT - is key to strengthening health systems. And third, how ADB will contribute to promoting universal health coverage in our developing member countries.

I. Importance of Strong Health Systems

Good health is essential for quality of life. At the same time, a healthy population is key to achieving inclusive and sustainable growth. Universal health coverage ensures that quality health services are available to all those in need without undue financial hardship.

In many countries in the Asian and Pacific region, individuals bear a high burden for the cost of health care. Further, the cost of health care is increasing as countries move from low to middle and high income status, and as the disease profile changes from communicable to non-communicable diseases in an aging population.

A 2012 ADB study found that in many developing countries, from 4% to 7% of household budgets were spent on health. While the impacts vary by country, the financial hardship for families with ill members can be severe. For example, in Cambodia, it is estimated that about 4% of families are pushed into extreme poverty every month as a result of out-of-pocket health expenditures.

II. Strengthening Health Care through ICT

Governments are committed to reducing the financial burden and improving the quality of health care. The ultimate aim is to achieve universal health coverage by reforming health care financing and health services delivery. To achieve this, they will have to make their health systems more efficient and effective through the use of ICT and innovation to enhance quality and lower cost.

ICT solutions include the most basic data recording for births and deaths, effective management of public and private health care services, and supply chain management for pharmaceuticals. Big data – the collection of large, complex data sets – generates evidence that can be used for planning both prevention and treatment. ICT also helps patients in remote areas to access health services.

III. ADB's role

There is clearly a role for ADB in this process of achieving universal health coverage supported by ICT. In the Pacific, for example, we provide the ICT backbone infrastructure such as optical fiber cabling. In Bangladesh and Lao PDR, ADB supports recording and collection of patients’ data to help communities better plan their health policies.

Under the Action Plan of the Midterm Review of ADB’s Strategy 2020, our target is to allocate three to five percent of ADB’s annual financing approvals to health by 2020. This represents a commitment of 400 to 750 million dollars a year, roughly doubling our financing of recent years. ADB’s Health Team is now developing a new Operational Plan for Health, with universal health coverage as the overarching goal.

We intend to provide both financial and knowledge support to our developing member countries, and also to make available to them our experience of engaging with the private sector.

This conference is but one example of ADB’s strong convening power and partnership-building capacity. I believe that the benefits of this conference will go well beyond the next two days. Sharing your experiences and insights can help develop evidence-based business cases for strategic ICT investments in health care.

ADB’s developing member countries are devoting more attention to health, as evidenced by participation in this international conference. In the coming years, the pursuit of universal health care with strategic ICT investments will make an important difference in the lives of hundreds of millions across the region.

I wish you all a stimulating and productive conference.

Thank you.