GMS Supports Lower Mekong Countries in Rapid Delivery of Essential Medical Equipment
As the region works to overcome the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) through the GMS Health Security Project is supporting reinforcement of public health security and readiness of health systems in Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Myanmar, and Viet Nam, to face the threats of COVID-19.
Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam — member countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) — are categorized as lower-middle income countries. They are highly at risk during a global public health crisis. Their marginalized, mobile, and poor people are also especially vulnerable.
As a quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ADB reallocated funds under the Health Security project to ensure the rapid delivery of essential medical equipment that health providers need to stay safe and save lives:
- CAMBODIA: $269,000 for thermal scanners used for border screening.
- LAO PDR: $600,000 for thermal scanners, personal protective equipment (PPE), real-time polymerase chain reaction machines, and infrared thermometers, autoclave, reagents and consumables. An additional $20 million has been requested for further COVID-19 response.
- MYANMAR: ADB has reallocated $6.6 million for thermal scanners, PPE, laboratory equipment, and ICU respiratory ventilators
- VIET NAM: $500,000 to support the emergency response activities of provinces.
ADB also approved an additional $2 million to strengthen GMS countries’ capacity for COVID-19 response, provide laboratory equipment, and enhance regional health cooperation on disease surveillance.
Furthermore, the GMS Working Group on Health Cooperation is closely coordinating with the ADB Health Sector Group, and closely liaising with the World Health Organization (WHO) regional offices in South-East Asia and Western Pacific to understand the risk profiles of the GMS countries to prepare for future support that may be needed. The Executing Agencies and Project Management Units of the Health Security Project are working closely with local WHO Offices to determine the specific needs of each country according to WHO recommendations.
ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa noted in a news release, “ADB has a track record of providing rapid and targeted support to our members in emergency situations. We stand ready to provide further assistance as required.”
The GMS Health Security Project
Approved by ADB in 2016, the GMS Health Security Project comprises four concessional loans cumulatively worth around $117 million loan and an additional $8 million grant assistance (for Lao PDR). Its outputs are (i) improvement of regional cooperation and communicable disease control in border areas; (ii) strengthen national disease surveillance and outbreak response systems; and (iii) improvement of laboratory services and hospital infection prevention and control.
Under its thrust to “strengthen national disease surveillance and outbreak response systems,” the project provides a scope to support governments’ planned responses through an emergency fund that can finance (i) investigation of an outbreak, (ii) confirmation of a plan of action, and (iii) enforcement of immediate actions to prevent or minimize the spread of outbreak.
The project’s flexible spending mechanism enables governments, specifically the Ministries of Health of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam, to respond swiftly and relevantly.
Health Security as a Regional Public Good
The GMS has had impressive socioeconomic gains. However, the subregion is exposed to public health challenges that pose a simultaneous threat to multiple countries in the region. Hence, the GMS program must be ready to respond to regional health challenges.
The third GMS Health Sector Working Group Meeting held in December 2019 in Thailand underscored this need to operationalize health security as a regional public good. The meeting discussed the subregion’s vulnerability to an evolving layer of health challenges, including the threat of spread of cross-border diseases. In the past, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and influenza A (H5N1) have dealt a significant impact in both fatality and economic loss to the region.
Regional health cooperation is integral to the GMS strategy. The GMS Program has a good track record of providing a platform for launching cooperation on health. Strategic pillar 1 under the GMS Health Cooperation Strategy 2019–2023 approaches health security as a regional public good:
Health security as a regional public good tackles the subregion’s vulnerability to acute public health events. Ensuring robust national health systems with capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to transnational health threats is the cornerstone of health security. Strengthening mechanisms for multisector cooperation under the One Health approach is a further building block crucial for effective response to zoonotic diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and food safety threats. Enhancing cross-border cooperation serves to maximize synergies between the health systems in the GMS, consolidating health security as a regional public good that carries benefits for people across the subregion.
In the open discussion at the GMS Health Sector Working Group Meeting, Mr. Rikard Elfving, Senior Social Sector Specialist, ADB, reiterated WHO’s reminder on the importance of decision makers to understand the cost of an outbreak and therefore, the need to make a continuous commitment to health security. He noted that “low-cost, high-impact investment can make a huge difference when it comes to health security.”
The ongoing pandemic reasserts this necessity, and reaffirms ADB’s commitment to health security in the GMS.