High-Level Forum on Health MDG in Asia and the Pacific


Issued by: Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, host, and World Health Organization, World Bank and Asian Development Bank

Asia-Pacific Ministers Pledge More Priority For Health

Health and development leaders from 24 countries in Asia and the Pacific closed a forum in Tokyo today with pledges to place health higher on the development agenda.

The two-day forum was held to accelerate progress in the region on the United Nations' millennium development goals (MDG) on health. The MDG were drawn up in 2000 as part of a roadmap to halve poverty by 2015.

Participants, which included 15 ministers and vice-ministers as well as policymakers, recognized the need for greater investment, partnerships and focus on health.

"Among the 8 MDG, three goals are related to health, a reflection of the crucial importance of health to promote freedom from sickness and poverty. Asia-Pacific, which accounts for two thirds of the world's poor population, is still confronted with various challenges," said Japan's Senior Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Ichiro Aisawa.

"Health is being neglected in the development agenda. Investing in health is essential to reduce poverty and further economic growth," said Dr Shigeru Omi, the World Health Organization's Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Of the eight MDG, which also cover education and the environment, countries are faring the worst on the targets for the health-related goals.

For example, most countries in the region are not on track to reach the MDG on deaths of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth. Every year, about twice as many women die in childbirth than from the tsunami of last year. The deaths in part occur because of a lack of health workers to assist women during delivery.

Nearly half of all Asia-Pacific countries are not on track to meet the target on deaths of children under five years. Every year, roughly 4 million children die before their fifth birthday in the region, mostly from diseases that can be easily prevented or treated.

"Other MDG goals relate to the quality of life, but health is a matter of life itself. This is reason enough to prioritize health," said Madam Khempeng Pholsena, Vice-President in the Asian Development Bank.

Despite the region's rapid economic growth and substantial advancement in reducing poverty, there is still a large - and growing - proportion of people who have been excluded from progress.

Some 700 million people in the region survive on less than $1 a day. Some do not survive - every year, a few million people die in the region because they are too poor to stay alive.

Large disparities persist within most countries, with rising inequalities between the rich and poor, and between the urban and rural population.

A multi-country study in the region (excluding China) by the World Bank found that only 16% of those from the poorest fifth of the population have a trained attendant during births, while the proportion for the richest fifth is as high as 75%.

"Inequality is a threat to progress. Countries need to ensure the poor are not left out," said Ms Fadia Saadah, Manager for health, nutrition and population in the East Asia and Pacific region of the World Bank.

Concern about progress on health MDG led Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to initiate the forum, which is the first of its kind to be held in the region. Other co-hosts of the High-Level Forum on Health MDG in Asia and the Pacific are the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Japan declared its determination to enhance its support to developing countries in their efforts to achieve the health MDGs with its new Health and Development Initiative. It also expressed its hope for greater regional cooperation on the health MDG.

Most of the discussion on MDG so far has focused on Africa and there were calls for the spotlight to be turned to Asia and the Pacific. This is the first time a high-level forum of this kind has been held in the region.

Participants at the forum also stressed the need to learn from each other and collectively share experiences and success stories. Some of the most outstanding examples of best practice of health interventions are in this region.

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