Thailand has been entrusted with serving as the coordinator for the universal health coverage network that will be formed by ASEAN and its three dialogue partners, namely China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, known as ASEAN+3.
Public Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri said that the decision was made at the 5th ASEAN Plus Three Health Ministers Meeting, which accompanied the 11th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting, held in Phuket, southern Thailand, on 2-6 July 2012.
He said that Thailand could be a model for countries in the region in terms of the implementation of the universal health coverage scheme. The Thai government has carried out this scheme for 10 years now. The program, which started in April 2001, has been successful and is recognized internationally.
He said that surveys revealed that this health insurance system was strongly supported by the Thai people. The people’s satisfaction with the scheme has increased significantly, from 83 percent in 2003 to 90 percent in 2011.
In order to reduce disparity and make more equitable the healthcare rights of the people, the Thai government has a policy to improve medical services for the three funds - the Universal Health Care Coverage Program, which covers 48 million people; the Social Security Program which provides medical services to nine million employees; and the Government Medical Service Program, which covers five million government officials and members of their families.
Minister Wittaya said that, in the first step of providing equal and standardized health services, patients who are registered under the three different health funds would be able to receive emergency treatment at hospitals outside the national health system, particularly at private hospitals.
Apart from the topic of universal health coverage, ASEAN health ministers, at the 11th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting, also discussed such major issues as accessibility to essential services for diabetes and hypertension patients, the control of tobacco use and alcohol consumption, the reduction of HIV, and the ASEAN Plus Three Field Epidemiology Training Program. The theme of the meeting was “ASEAN Community 2015: Opportunities and Challenges to Health.”
According to the Ministry of Public Health, non-communicable diseases in all ASEAN countries have been on the increase. It was reported that 2.5 million people in this region die of these diseases each year. The causes of non-communicable diseases include smoking, alcohol drinking, physical inactivity, and inappropriate food intake. The first four chronic diseases include coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, non-insulin dependent diabetes, and cancer. About 1.5 million people in ASEAN live with HIV, and out of this number, 1.4 million are adults and 500,000 are females.
The ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting convenes every two years.