Health & Life Sciences Update: August 16, 2019

Health & Life Sciences Update | August 16, 2019
Authors: Sunita Kapoor, Hai Pham and Rachel Forrest

August 21Deadline for Call for Input - Health & Life Sciences Industry Issues & Recommendations in Vietnam
The Government of Vietnam (GOV) is currently doing a comprehensive review of all trade and market access issues it has with the U.S. in order to find solutions and help improve the trade balance and bilateral relationship. As a result, Vice Minister of Health Truong Quoc Cuong will plan to meet with the Council and its members to discuss issues companies are facing in the health sector in more detail, including on ways to address them. The Council is planning to request this meeting with Vice Minister Cuong during the week of August 26. Members are encouraged to send your issues and recommendations by COB Wednesday, August 21 to Vu Tu Thanh (, Sunita Kapoor ( and Hai Pham ( 

August 21: Health & Life Sciences Committee Call on Pricing Issues in ASEAN
As a follow up to our Health & Life Sciences Committee Call on July 31, the Council is convening an informal conference call for interested members to discuss pricing issues in ASEAN. One proposed discussion topic is follow-up and next-steps on the Philippines Maximum Drug Retail Price (MDRP) policy. Looking ahead, the Council is also planning to organize a roundtable in Q3/Q4 2019 in Singapore on this topic - this will be discussed on the call and more details to follow. This call will take place on Wednesday, August 21 at 5:30 PM SGT. Dial-in details will be distributed to registrants prior to the call. If you have any questions, or to propose discussion topics, please contact Sunita Kapoor (

October 28 – November 1, Thailand: 28th Pharmaceutical Product Working Group (PPWG) Meeting

November 8 or week of November 25-28: Regional President’s Luncheon on the Healthcare Sector

Q3/Q4 2019: Roundtable on Pricing Issues in ASEAN

Q3/Q4 2019: Roundtable on the Digital Transformation of the Healthcare Sector

Q3/Q4 2019: Potential Study Tour for ASEAN Policymakers in the Healthcare Sector

November/December 2019: Joint Meeting between ASEAN Senior Officials’ on Youth and Senior Officials’ Meeting on Health Development

Others:  The Council may conduct a Health & Life Sciences Mission to the Philippines in Q4 of 2019 and is currently gauging member interest in participating in this mission. If interested and for further information please contact Sunita Kapoor (


Thailand’s New Public Health Minister

The confirmation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s cabinet by the King of Thailand last month brought new faces and policy directions. Anutin Charnvirakul was appointed as the new Minister of Public Health and will also serve as a Deputy Prime Minister. Anutin previously served as the leader of the Bhumjaithai (BJT) Party, helping secure Prime Minister Prayut’s position in the coalition government. Anutin’s political power within the party and support for marijuana legalization and commercialization within Thailand were key factors contributing to his appointment. Developing a medical cannabis industry is among top policy priorities for Thailand’s new government. On August 7, Minister Anutin presented the first batch of cannabis oil produced by a state-owned pharmaceutical company during a press conference. As dual Public Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Anutin will also supervise the Ministries of Tourism and Sports and Transport. The Council met with DPM Anutin on August 14th and he spoke of his interest in fostering a new spirit of collaboration between the Ministry of Public Health and the private sector based on trust and mutually beneficial objectives.

Marijuana Legalization Makes Strides Across ASEAN

Marijuana legalization is becoming a popular policy topic across ASEAN, with countries such as Thailand and the Philippines bringing marijuana to the forefront of political attention. Thailand is the first nation in ASEAN to legalize medical marijuana, while opponents of the war on drugs in the Philippines and Malaysia have encouraged openness to medical marijuana legalization.

The government of Thailand first legalized medical cannabis in February, while distribution of medical cannabis oil to hospitals began on August 7. The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) oversaw the delivery of 5-ml bottles to the Public Health Ministry to distribute to hospitals for 4,000 registered patients. An estimated 6,000 bottles of cannabis oil will be distributed by the end of this month with the further hope to distribute 1 million bottles within the next 6 months. The GPO will start planting the second crop of cannabis by the end of August with the aim to expand greenhouse cultivation by 2020. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has additionally worked to expand medical marijuana accessibility and usage by reinstating the legal status of 3,000 folk practitioners, setting criteria to allow cannabis-mixed medicinal formulas to be used in treatment or research, as well as by setting up guidelines under which Thai and traditional medicine practitioners may use cannabis-mixed medicines. Anutin also aims to place marijuana on Thailand’s National List of Essential Medicines, creating more accessibility to citizens and coverage for use under universal healthcare.

Meanwhile, the Philippines passed a bill in January to expand research and access to medical cannabis. The government has made a shift from strong anti-drug laws to encouraging medical marijuana research and expansion. Recently, Isabela representative Antonio T. Albano has refiled House Bill 279, the Philippines Medical Cannabis Compassionate Act, to encourage medical marijuana legalization and consumption while opposing recreational marijuana. The bill would allow the Department of Health to issue identification cards to medical cannabis patients and caregivers, while the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency or the Bureau of Customs would provide oversight.

Malaysian Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad has stated that decriminalization will be a “critical step towards achieving a national drug policy that puts science and public health before punishment and incarceration,” a hint at Malaysia’s move towards more liberal marijuana laws. Malaysia not long ago imposed death sentences for drug traffickers, but similar to other ASEAN nations, sees scientific benefits to medical cannabis legalization and may soon decriminalize some forms of cannabis use.

Innovative Healthcare Financing in ASEAN

Recently, ASEAN Member States have been placing healthcare and health related funding at the forefront of policy priorities. Zambo Sur hospital in the Philippines has implemented No Balance Billing (NBB) in conjunction with the Universal Health Care program signed into law by President Duterte in February to provide healthcare coverage to all Filipinos. The NBB ensures that citizens will not be charged fees in excess of PhilHealth coverage in government hospitals, something many Filipinos had expressed concerned over. However, patients must be enrolled in PhilHealth before being admitted to the hospital or participate in the point-of-care automatic PhilHealth enrollment to receive no-fee benefits. The Philippines Department of Budget and Management has also been active in increasing funding for infrastructure and medical equipment and recently disbursed US$45 million to the Department of Health’s central office.

Thailand’s National Health Security Office (NHSO) has been utilizing the universal healthcare scheme to urge citizens to get tested for hepatitis B and C in coordination with the Public Health Ministry’s Department of Disease Control and the Thai Association. Hepatitis B and C tests were provided at 79 hospitals from August 5-9, all covered under the universal healthcare scheme. Also covered are screening for hepatitis B in pregnant women, treatments for those diagnosed with hepatitis B, and vaccines for hepatitis B for children. Hepatitis C coverage is limited to high risks groups including drug abusers and those receiving HIV-screening tests.

Cambodia’s Council of Ministers recently approved a draft law on August 2 to expand the National Social Security Fund to cover pensions, healthcare, health & safety at work, and unemployment benefits. This is a positive step towards Cambodia’s commitment to provide universal health coverage by 2025, which previously had seen little progress. Moving forward, members of ASEAN may continue to increase public funding for healthcare services to encourage social wellbeing.


Indonesia National Public Procurement Agency (LKPP) Regulation No.11/ 2018 on Electronic Catalogue (E-Catalogue)

Following our previous Focus Group Discussion on Government Procurement for Healthcare in the Era of Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) with the Indonesia Ministry of Health and the National Public Procurement Agency (LKPP), the Council learned that LKPP is open to revising the Regulation No. 11/ 2018 on E-Catalogue (available here). The Council plans to provide joint submission with the European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) in regards to industry inputs. Please provide comments using this document to Steven Gunawan at and Ayu Nadia at by COB Monday, August 19.

Health & Life Sciences Statistics in ASEAN

The Council’s Health & Life Sciences Team is currently working on an internal project, collating key statistics for the healthcare sector in ASEAN. This will be useful for the Council’s leaders and mission delegates during our various health & life sciences related industry missions, workshops, roundtables, and position papers. Please review the current work in progress linked here, and let us know if there are any other key indicators and/or sources/references that should be included. Please contact Sunita Kapoor ( for a discussion.

USABC Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) Commitment

Since the start of 2019, the Council has continued to further its commitment to EWEC to promote the goals and values of the EWEC Global Strategy, as well as discuss the Council’s pledge to highlight the great work many of our members are already doing around ASEAN to improve the lives of women, children and adolescents. As part of our commitment, we are creating a website where we will feature members’ work/projects related to maternal and child health in the region. Please visit the working website to see current submissions here. If you are interested in sharing your work, please review the submission form here and send all materials to Hai Pham at at your earliest convenience.

+ Social fund to cover pensions | Phnom Penh Post

+ Meiji Seika Pharma to launch two products from Santen Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. in Indonesia
+ childhood obesity reaches alarming proportions in Indonesia

+ Laos, China extend partnership in treatment of cardiovascular disease
+ Lao gov't stresses need for correct treatment of dengue

+ Fifty per cent of those with NCD unaware they have the disease

+ A green solution to a plastic problem

+ DBM releases funds for health infra, medical equipment
+ Zambo Sur hospital implements ‘no balance billing’ policy
+ Capitol wants dengue measures
+ Albano refiles bill on medical marijuana

+ A digital platform for patients' healthcare needs

+ Thailand's National Health Offers Free Hepatitis B and C Tests
+ Anutin loosens 3 regulations to enable traditional and folk practitioners to prescribe cannabis

+ HCM City speeds up work on smart health en route to becoming smart city
+ Health ministry instructs healthcare providers to prepare for coming heatwave
+ Hà Nội to work harder to boost population quality
+ Vietnam emerges as a global pharmaceutical hub
+ Vietnam allows foreign firm to import drugs for first time
+ Health ministry launches pharmaceutical database
+ Local public hospitals fail to lure doctors despite support policies

Social fund to cover pensions | Phnom Penh Post The Phnom Penh Post 5th Aug 2019
At a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday, the Council of Ministers approved a draft law on expanding the scope of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to cover pensions. The law is of immense importance, particularly in providing greater protections for women, Hun Sen said on Facebook on Saturday. “The government will continue to provide workers with greater protection and further benefits to ensure they have better lives,” the prime minister said. The draft law aims to expand the social security fund according to the principles of solidarity and equality and comprises four parts – pensions, healthcare, health and safety at work, and unemployment benefit. The composition of the law is designed to improve the livelihoods of workers, allowing them to live with greater dignity. This includes workers in the public sector and those who come under the labor law, including housemaids, flight attendants, ship crews and the self-employed.


Meiji Seika Pharma to launch two products from Santen Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. in Indonesia - ANTARA News Antara News 7th Aug 2019
Meiji Seika Pharma Co., Ltd. “Meiji” has announced that it launched the following two products from Santen Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. “Santen” in Indonesia, based on a working business agreement that Meiji entered in November of 2018 with Santen; Dry-eye treatment DIQUAS ophthalmic solution 3% (Diquafosol Sodium) and Glaucoma and ocular hypertension treatment TAFLOTAN ophthalmic solution 0.0015% (Tafluprost). Based on the working business agreement with Santen, these products will be marketed in Indonesia by Meiji’s affiliated subsidiary, PT. Meiji Indonesian Pharmaceutical Industries “PT. Meiji”.

childhood obesity reaches alarming proportions in Indonesia Antara News 5th Aug 2019
The Indonesian Association of Food and Nutrition Experts (Pergizi Pangan Indonesia) has drawn attention to a disturbing rising trend of overnutrition-triggered obesity in Indonesia. "Obesity in Indonesia has recorded an increasing trend of 18 percent. Other countries, including Malaysia, have witnessed a 40-50 percent rise," Chairman of Pergizi Pangan Indonesia Prof. Dr Hardinsyah, who also served as chairman of the Asian Congress of Nutrition 2019, remarked here on Monday. Some 10 percent of the cases of overnutrition were recorded among children below the age of five, he added. Hardinsyah stated that overnutrition is chiefly caused by improperly managed dietetic intake, low levels of physical activity, less or excessive rest, and stress. To address the problem of overnutrition among children, the government will need to put in place a regulation to encourage physical activity among students at schools, promote healthy lifestyle among the public, and provide safe and comfortable access for pedestrians, he stated.


Fifty per cent of those with NCD unaware they have the disease Borneo Post Online 6th Aug 2019
About 50 per cent of those having non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country are not aware that they have such diseases, says Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah. He said that was one of the factors that prompted the government to introduce the healthcare protection scheme for the low-income B40 group, known as ‘Skim Peduli Kesihatan’, to carry out health screening to identify those with NCDs. “Fifty per cent of those diagnosed with NCDs cannot control their disease. Hence, the need to improve primary healthcare at the health clinics so that we can control diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) and other diseases,” he said at the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) on Exercise Clinic’s Smart Partnership here yesterday.


A green solution to a plastic problem The Myanmar Times 2nd Aug 2019
A new natural product made by environmental products provider Zero Plastic Myanmar will soon be introduced on the market, said Ko Kyaw Kyaw Htike, founder of Zero Plastic Myanmar. The new product is a simple carrying handle for takeaway cups made from the by-product of jute production that will do away with the need for plastic bags. “Jute is an incredible plant fibre that is used to make twine, rope, matting, and sacks, among other things. However, during the production of jute products, just two layers of the plant are used while the third is discarded. We are using the discarded fibre to make the takeaway handles,” Ko Kyaw Kyaw Htike said.


DBM releases funds for health infra, medical equipment Manila Bulletin Business 14th Aug 2019
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released the funding for the implementation of several infrastructure projects and the purchase of medical equipment being implemented by the Department of Health (DOH). In a statement, the DBM said that about P2.6 billion were disbursed to the DOH central office to support various projects and programs for barangay health stations (BHS), rural health units (RHU), and local government unit (LGU) hospitals. The budget should also finance DOH hospitals, other health facilities, and beneficiary national government agencies under the 2019 health facilities enhancement program (HFEP), the DBM said. The HFEP is a national program that assists government healthcare facilities in providing quality health care, the budget department said.

Zambo Sur hospital implements ‘no balance billing’ policy Philippine News Agency 7th Aug 2019
The Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center (ZDSMC) said it has started implementing the “No Balance Billing (NBB)” policy in consonance with the Universal Health Care program of Malacañang. Joefe Suzon, provincial administrator, said Wednesday the NBB policy enables the vulnerable sectors, such as the poor and elderly, to pay no more in excess of the PhilHealth coverage when admitted in government hospitals. Popularly known as “Walang Dagdag Bayad”, the NBB sets a condition that no direct medical expense shall be exacted from the patient for the duration of confinement, which in effect makes treatment and care entirely free. However, Suzon clarified that the NBB policy does not automatically mean a patient will not have any financial responsibility in the hospital just because it implies “no” or “zero” charges.

Capitol wants dengue measures Sunstar 7th Aug 2019
CENTRAL Visayas may not be included in the regions with the highest number of dengue cases in the country, but the Cebu Provincial Government is not letting its guard down. Under her administration, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said the Capitol will be working closely with the Department of Health (DOH) 7 and the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center following the declaration of a national dengue epidemic on Aug. 6, 2019. “Since I was alerted about this issue, I asked our Provincial Health Officer Dr. (Cristina) Giango to call our regional director for DOH, Dr. (Jaime) Bernadas and the feedback is that here in Cebu, there really is no epidemic. There has not been an outbreak even... There are ongoing preventive measures and we continue to be very, very active in insisting that all municipalities and cities closely adhere and implement these preventive measures,” Garcia said on Wednesday, Aug. 7.

Albano refiles bill on medical marijuana Business World 5th Aug 2019
ISABELA REPRESENTATIVE Antonio T. Albano has called for support on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes as he refiled House Bill 279, the Philippine Medical Cannabis Compassionate Act. “It’s important for us to make sure that the medical aspect gets passed first before we deal with recreational because I’m totally against the recreational purposes of the marijuana, precisely because it is the stumbling block for us not to be able to dispense the medications… to everyone else,” said Mr. Albano on Monday. Under the bill, the Department of Health shall issue registry identification (ID) cards to qualified medical cannabis patients and caregivers.


A digital platform for patients' healthcare needs The Business Times 5th Aug 2019
A HEALTHCARE professional's job doesn't end with the patient leaving the hospital with the advent of digital healthcare platform Jaga-Me. The company goes the extra mile to bring medical and caregiving services into the homes of patients. Sorting through a patient's prescriptions and flagging out expired medicine are part and parcel of what Jaga-Me's nurses do on the job. Together with another co-founder Kuah Ling Ling, Mr Koo came up with the concept for Jaga-Me, bagging the third prize in the MIT Hacking Medicine@SG hackathon held in 2015. While Ms Kuah was a trained nurse, Mr Koo came from a life sciences background and left his job at the Economic Development Board to develop Jaga-Me from a "side project" into a full-time gig.


Thailand's National Health Offers Free Hepatitis B and C Tests CTN News 4th Aug 2019
People throughout Thailand are being urged to get tested for hepatitis B and C at hospitals now that the tests are free.The National Health Security Office (NHSO) confirmed that the universal healthcare scheme covered treatments for the diseases. The hepatitis B and C tests will be provided at 79 hospitals from August 5-9, an official ofNHSO said on Friday. Dr Rattaphon Triamwichanon, said the free screening was being jointly held by the NHSO, the Public Health Ministry’s Department of Disease Control (DDC) and the Thai Association.

Anutin loosens 3 regulations to enable traditional and folk practitioners to prescribe cannabis The Nation Thailand 7th Aug 2019
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul this week signed three ministerial regulations aimed to facilitate the medicinal use of cannabis. They include the legal status reinstatement for some 3,000 folk practitioners, including Khao Kwan Foundation president and activist Decha Siripat, so they could prescribe cannabis without violating narcotic laws. During his meeting on Tuesday with 20 folk practitioners led by Decha, the minister regaled them with details of his decision to sign the amended ministerial regulation ratifying their status so without their having to undergo the extensive process of checking and ratifying that was required under the previous regulation.


HCM City speeds up work on smart health en route to becoming smart city Vietnam News Agency 14th Aug 2019
HCM City’s Department of Health has sped up the process of building a database and adopting IT as instructed by the city Party Committee. They were required as part of the smart city project, work on which began more than 18 months ago. Nguyễn Thiện Nhân, secretary of the city Party Committee, at a meeting held to review the project progress in June, had instructed departments including health to publish what they would need and do in the third quarter so that companies in relevant fields such as IT could take part in bids for the work.

Health ministry instructs healthcare providers to prepare for coming heatwave Vietnam News Agency 7th Aug 2019
The Ministry of Health has ordered health facilities to map out response plans for a possible water shortage amid forecasts of a prolonged heatwave expected to hit the country in the coming days, especially in the central region. The ministry asked provincial health departments to ensure there will be an adequate supply of water and that hospitals and health stations throughout the country pay heed to proper hygiene.

Hà Nội to work harder to boost population quality Vietnam News Agency 7th Aug 2019
More measures are set to be taken by Hà Nội authorities to improve local population quality. According to the municipal Department of Health, the city achieved the population and family planning targets set for 2018, including the birth rate reduced by 0.17 per thousand from the previous year to 15.13 per thousand, the number of third children born down by 0.1 per cent, and the sex ratio at birth down to 113 males per 100 females.

Local public hospitals fail to lure doctors despite support policies Vietnam News Agency 3rd Aug 2019
Many localities have issued preferential policies in an attempt to attract and retain doctors at local public hospitals. However, the efforts have seemingly been ineffective as the shortages of doctors remain unsolved. In central Phú Yên Province, a special policy has been announced for newly-graduated doctors. Doctors with distinction degrees would receive VNĐ250 million (US$10,750) when they start working for public hospitals in the province. Those with good and average academic records would be given VNĐ200 million ($8,600) and VNĐ150 million ($6,450), respectively.