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Regional knowledge hub -CONNECT- strengthens capacity across Asia-Pacific to promote UHC

A regional technical hub on Social Health Protection in Asia-Pacific has been launched with support from ILO, to facilitate knowledge development, capacity building and technical assistance with a goal to achieve Universal Health Coverage across the region.

A pioneering association of experts and development partners in Asia Pacific, named Connect, has been developed with the support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to strengthen social health protection (SHP) in the region. The driving force behind the initiative is the promotion of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) through capacity building, knowledge development, cross technical assistance, advocacy and awareness raising.

Improved SHP systems are greatly needed in the region. Asia is one of the two regions in the world accounting for 97% of the global population impoverished by out-of-pocket health expenditures. Despite mounting progress of SHP systems in countries across Asia-Pacific, remaining challenges point to significant capacity and knowledge gaps. Building a network of experts working on SHP in Asia-Pacific through Connect has established a unique regional hub for the generation and dissemination of knowledge and expertise in the field of SHP.

Founding members include Mahidol University, Seoul National University, the Korean Institute for Health and Social Affairs, Viet Nam Health Strategy and Policy Institute and the ILO. The association is forging partnerships with universities and research foundations in the region to stimulate collaborative research opportunities and deliver training and technical assistance. Through doing so, the innovative South-South cooperation initiative strengthens existing national SHP systems, strategies and policies.

With support from partners’, the ILO is leading the development of the initiative through the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg funded project, “Support to the Extension of Social Health Protection in South East Asia”. The project’s overall objective is to strengthen SHP in Myanmar, Lao PDR and Viet Nam, a key component of which is the development of a regional technical facility to build capacity and support interventions in the project’s target countries, and beyond.

Strengthened by these partnerships, the ILO Luxembourg project designed the technical structure of Connect and is currently leading the facility’s country level interventions in Lao PDR, Viet Nam and Myanmar, as well as supporting several regional activities. So far, the project has initiated three key activities to promote cross technical assistance, knowledge sharing and capacity building.

To facilitate cross technical assistance through Connect, the project has established a partnership between Myanmar and Thailand. A team of Thai SHP experts is providing support to the expansion of Myanmar’s Social Security Board (SSB) medical scheme by assessing the current model of healthcare provision to SSB members and supporting reforms to implement a purchaser-provider split. Technical assistance from Thailand will contribute significantly to the success of ongoing reforms of Myanmar’s SHP system.

Through Connect, Thailand is also supporting the Ministry of Health in Lao PDR. A team of experts at Thailand’s Mahidol University is assisting the expansion and harmonization of Lao’s National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme by supporting a complex costing exercise of the scheme’s health benefit package. As Lao PDR draws closer to its ambitious goal of achieving UHC by 2025, this partnership will facilitate invaluable capacity building opportunities for the country.

In addition to supporting hands on technical partnerships, under the institutional framework of Connect, ILO is leading the development of a Compendium on SHP in Asia-Pacific. The document will capture individual countries’ experiences of SHP, with a focus on population coverage and adequacy of benefits, in order to provide comparative analysis and share lessons learnt in the region. The comprehensive collection of evidence-based insights cultivate regional and global knowledge on SHP.

In line with the capacity building component of Connect, a Master’s Program on Primary Health Care Management (MPHM) with a special track in SHP is being developed. Hosted by the ASEAN Institute for Health Development at Mahidol University in Thailand, the one-year program is intended to build the capacity of participating SHP practitioners and decision makers from the region. The course will empower SHP professionals with the skills to design, finance, implement, evaluate, and adapt adequate SHP laws, policies and systems.

Sharing knowledge and technical know-how, facilitating capacity building, and promoting collaborative research are key to strengthening SHP systems. The establishment of a multi stakeholder network to guide such activities throughout Asia-Pacific will consolidate expertise, leverage resources and drive innovation towards UHC in the region. Ultimately, achieving UHC is about realising human rights. The only way to attain this is through the institutionalisation of sustainable, equitable and efficient social health protection systems.