Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to convey my sincere appreciation and congratulations to you, Ms. Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for ILO in Asia and the Pacific, and your team for producing such a timely and highly relevant report.
I also commend the Issue-based Coalition (IBC) on Inclusion and Empowerment for organizing this launch event.
Social protection and universal health coverage play critical roles in saving people’s lives, protecting wellbeing and livelihoods while also retaining the region’s hard-fought development gains and helping achieve many of the SDGs.
For hundreds of millions of people in our region, falling ill means working while being sick or contagious. It also means not seeking treatment when needing it.
When people forgo care, health conditions can cause enormous socio-economic impacts on individuals, families and society, including through a loss of income, productivity and premature death.
In many countries in our region, unaffordable health care results in catastrophic health expenditures, pushing millions of households into poverty every year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated many underlying ills and highlighted coverage gaps in social health protection. Less than half of the region’s population is covered by at least one income protection scheme. Around 1 billion people have no access to affordable health care.
Therefore, the COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the central importance of upholding these basic human rights for all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Acknowledging these challenges, at the last Commission session countries adopted a resolution that encourages members and associate members to strengthen health resilience, including by accelerating efforts towards achieving universal health coverage by 2030, thereby enabling people to access affordable and quality healthcare.
ESCAP members also endorsed an “Action Plan to Strengthen Regional Cooperation on Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific.” The Action Plan provides the region with a shared vision, strategy and platform for promoting partnership, knowledge and peer learning to broaden social protection coverage.
It is my hope that this first regional Action Plan on social protection will accelerate progress in the final years of the UN Decade of Action by ensuring that no one is left behind. Together with ILO and other UN entities, ESCAP will work hard to support its implementation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by saying that our Asia-Pacific region still has some way to go in achieving universal health coverage. All of us have our part to play, but we need to do more, much more.
The task ahead is indeed big. But let me also remind you – using a quote from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – that: “if we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved, and our world will be transformed for the better.”
This is why I am so pleased that we have this opportunity to come together today.
I hope that this report, together with our hard work, can contribute to pushing this agenda.
I thank you for your attention.