Asia-Pacific needs to spend more on elderly health – OECD

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ASIA-PACIFIC countries should strengthen their health systems and significantly increase spending to deliver effective universal coverage to meet the needs of their fast aging populations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in its latest report.

The report, “Health at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2016—Measuring Progress Towards Universal Health Coverage,”which was released last week, said that the share of the population aged 65 years and over in Asian countries is expected to increase by nearly two and half times to 20.5 percent of the total population by 2050.

Life expectancy at birth across 22 Asian countries reached 73.7 years in 2015, a gain of about 4.6 years since 2000, the report added. By comparison, OECD countries’ average life expectancy increased by 3.4 years during the same period.

The OECD report pointed out, however, that a large regional divide in terms of life expectancy persists across Asia. Hong Kong has the longest life expectancy at 84 years for both men and women. Japan, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and Macao, China also exceeded 80 years for total life expectancy. In contrast, in Papua New Guinea and Lao PDR, a child born in 2015 can expect to live an average of 65 years.

According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Philippines, which is noted as having a comparatively young population among Asia-Pacific countries, has an average life expectancy of 65 years for men and 72 years for women. The number of Filipinos age 65 and older is estimated to account for about 4.5 percent of the total population.

The report suggested Asia-Pacific countries are not yet well equipped to face rapidly growing demand for healthcare from aging populations. There are too few doctors and nurses in the region, at around 1.3 and 3.2 per 1,000 population respectively—well below the OECD average of 3.3 and 9.1—to cope with the demands in particular of an aging population, it said.

While the number of hospital beds per capita is at 3.3 per 1,000 population on average across Asia, below the OECD average of 4.7, health services for an aging population will need to be centered on primary care and continuity, away from hospital-centric systems.

In terms of healthcare spending, the report found that Asian economies spend just over $930 per person per year on health, against $3,618 in OECD countries. This amounts to 4.7 percent of gross domestic product on average in the Asian region, compared to 9.3 percent in OECD countries in 2014.

The share of public spending in total health spending is much lower in Asia compared to OECD countries, 50.5 percent compared with 72.7 percent, with spending on pharmaceuticals accounting for almost one third of all health expenditure across Asian countries in 2014.

Other findings

In addition to focusing on aging and life expectancy, the report also revealed that out of an estimated 1.25 million deaths globally each year due to road accidents, 60 percent occur in Asia, and that the burden of road traffic injuries falls disproportionately on vulnerable road users—pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

A dramatic fall in the infant mortality rate has also occurred across the region since 2000, with many countries experiencing declines of greater than 50 percent. However, at an average of 21.5 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015, infant mortality is still five times the OECD rate, the report said.

The report also found that between 2000 and 2015, the average maternal mortality rate across Asian countries was cut by more than half. However, maternal mortality averages about seven deaths per 100,000 live births in OECD countries, while in Asian countries it is almost 13 times greater.

The “Health at a Glance Asia/Pacific 2016” report was a joint publication of the OECD and the WHO, and covered key indicators on health status, determinants of health, health care resources and utilization, health expenditure and financing, and quality of care for 27 Asia-Pacific countries and economies.

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