Health & Life Sciences Update: December 5, 2019

Health & Life Sciences Update | December 5, 2019
Authors: Sunita Kapoor, Hai Pham, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao and J-Ren Ong
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 
  • Joint Launch of Digital Healthcare White Paper in Hanoi, Vietnam: RESCHEDULED until after Tet Holidays in Vietnam (originally planned for November 20, 2019). Click here for the full report.
  • December 2019: Potential meeting with Philippine Senators to discuss Maximum Retail Prices for Drugs and Medicines
  • March 5-6, 2020: Health & Life Sciences Industry Mission to Vietnam
  • April 2020: Health & Life Sciences Industry Mission to Indonesia
  • Late April to Early May 2020: Regional HLS Presidents Industry Mission to Thailand
  • 1st Half of 2020: Joint Antimicrobial Resistance Program in ASEAN (inaugural collaboration between Council’s Food & Agriculture and Health & Life Sciences committees)
  • 1st Half of 2020: Regional HLS Presidents Luncheon and Potentially Regional HLS Presidents Industry Mission to Thailand
 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Singapore’s Thriving MedTech Industry Needs Continued Support to Grow
Singapore’s burgeoning MedTech industry has witnessed dynamic expansion in recent years. Government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG) reports that in 2018, 250 local MedTech companies were operating within Singapore – more than double that of 2014. Of these 250 companies, half were start-ups. The MedTech boom has also proved lucrative for the city-state. In 2008, the MedTech sector contributed US$2.70 billion to the GDP but this grew to US$9.74 billion by 2018.

However, there are challenges unique to the MedTech market that the government must continue to address if it aspires to sustain the growth of the sector. Unlike IT, electronic or software companies that experience rapidly shifting trends, Medtech must cope with higher product adoption barriers and longer gestation periods. Medtech products are under more stringent regulation as they have longer production timelines from product development all the way to commercialization.

The Singaporean government has instituted measures to expedite the development and commercialization of MedTech technologies. In 2014, The Agency for Sciences, Technology and Research (A*Star) established the Diagnostics Development Hub (DDH) to support the MedTech sector. The DDH fast-tracks MedTech development by providing early-stage incubation support and investment.

There have also been initiatives to foster partnerships between Singapore’s public healthcare clusters and MedTech SMEs. In Singapore, public healthcare teams have teams dedicated to accelerating clinical innovation. They provide local MedTech industries with a platform to test products in hospital settings, placing new technologies in a better position to be commercialized. Public health clusters also provide services to MedTech SMEs like Health Technology Assessments, business evaluations, essential access to networks and capital. Together, Singapore’s three public healthcare clusters (National Healthcare Group, SingHealth and National University Health System) had supported more than 100 SME innovations in 2018.

With a rapidly ageing population and a rising prevalence in chronic disease, Singapore is emphasizing the advancement of medical innovation to meet these challenges. However, it must continue to nurture the growing sector if it is to realize its aspiration to become the regions premier Medtech hub.


Immunization Programs Key to Lowering Infant Mortality in Indonesia
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo declared curbing infant mortality as a top priority in his second administration. Pneumonia is a leading cause of childhood mortality in Indonesia and continues to be a growing health issue - the Basic Health Survey (Riskesdas) revealed cases of pediatric pneumonia to be rising, increasing to 2 percent in 2018 from 1.85 percent in 2013. Last year, pediatric pneumonia infected 505,331 children and led to 425 deaths. Yet, the Indonesian government has been pro-active in combating pediatric pneumonia. For example, in 2019 Indonesia spent Rp 38 billion (US$2.7 million) on Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccines (PCV) and initiated PCV immunization pilot programmes, introducing PCV13 to West Lombok in 2017 and Bangka Belitung in 2018. The Ministry of Health also plans to include PCV13 in its complete immunization program by 2024.

PCV13 is a highly effective vaccine that bolsters immunity against 13 strains of the pneumococcus bacteria. Endorsed by attributed health organization like the World Health Organization, PCV13 is used by 145 countries worldwide. However, the vaccine is expensive with a market price of US$20 per unit and could stretch the Indonesian health budget further. The government is eyeing the Advance Market Commitment (AMC) scheme offered by UNICEF to offset the cost of PCV13 vaccines. The AMC-UNICEF scheme will slash the price of PCV13 from US$20 to US$2.93 per dose. Every year, five million infants require PCV13 vaccinations, but with assistance under AMC-UNICEF, the government stands to save approximately Rp 3.58 trillion (US$254 million) annually from vaccine procurement alone.

Before a decision is made the government is ensuring that there are no contradictions between its current regulations on the procurement of goods and services and the AMC-UNICEF scheme. A decision should be made soon as the deadline for Indonesia’s participation in the AMC-UNICEF scheme is slated for December 31, 2019.


Assessing Antimicrobial Resistance in the Philippines
Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) kills approximately 700,000 people every year, but this could climb to 10 million deaths by 2050. AMR from the overuse or misuse of antibiotics could have grave implications for the future of human health. Under guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Philippine Department of Health created the Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Program (ARSP) to monitor the nation's AMR developments.

In their 2018 Annual Report Data Summary, the ARSP monitored different community and hospital-acquired pathogens. The report found that the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) rate was 53 percent. This means that out of every two patients infected with Staphylococcus, one will have a strain that is resistant to antibiotics. However, this percentage varies from hospital to hospital, with some rates being as high as 80 percent and others as low as 32 percent. MRSA is highly resilient, being resistant to antibiotics such as penicillin, cephalosporin, and carbapenem. The report also surveyed the resistance of E. Coli. It discovered that the bacterium’s resistance rate to ampicillin was at 78.1 percent, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole at 57.8 percent, ciprofloxacin at 45.1% and cefuroxime at 36.5%. E. Coli was also found to be resistant to a host of other antibiotics including amoxicillin-clavulanic acid, nitrofurantoin, ertapenem and amikacin. E. Coli is linked to medical disorders like cholangitis, cholecystitis and urinary tract infections.

Promoting vaccinations and personal stewardship are also helpful general strategies that mitigate the risks of AMR. Vaccinations are a cost-effective and sustainable disease and infection prevention method which can help reduce AMR by bolstering an individual’s immunity and reducing the need for antibiotics to be prescribed. They also reduce the transmission of infections, lowering the economic burden of having to treat infected patients. The general public should also be involved in antimicrobial stewardship - using antibiotics as prescribed by doctors, following directions on packages and practicing good personal hygiene are all crucial steps in the fight against AMR. Given the growing importance of this issue in ASEAN, on December 5th, the Council served as a supporting partner to the Economist's AMR Summit Asia in Singapore.


Vietnam Expands Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Programmes Against HIV/AIDS
The Vietnam Administration for HIV/AIDS Control (VAAC) shared that its Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) programmes, would be extended to include 15 more cities and provinces. Together with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), VAAC rolled out the first pilot PrEP programmes in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in June 2017. PrEP programmes were introduced as a state-led effort to protect communities at high risk of contracting HIV. On November 2018, VAAC expanded PrEP programmes to 11 provinces. Currently, there are more than 6000 people who have enrolled in PrEP, with some 3946 people signing up in 2019 alone. This rapid expansion in PrEP programme coverage demonstrates both the growth of HIV awareness and strong demand for anti-HIV drugs in Vietnam.

PrEP is a combination of two anti-HIV drugs (tenofovir and emtricitabine) and is highly effective in preventing HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when taken daily PrEP reduces the risk of contracting HIV from unprotected sexual intercourse by as much as 99%. PrEP can also reduce the risk of contracting HIV through needle sharing, reducing the risk of transmission by 74 percent. In 2018, UNAIDS estimated that there were 230,000 living with HIV in Vietnam. However, HIV prevalence in Vietnam is on the decline. At its peak, there were an estimated 26,000 new HIV infections in 2003, but as of 2018, there were 5700 new HIV infections, marking a decrease of 78 percent between 2003 and 2018. Vietnam’s expansion of its PrEP programme is a committed effort towards reaching the goal of eradicating HIV by 2030.
 

Singapore Spends $1.3 Billion Annually on Stress-Related Illnesses
A global study conducted by health insurance firm Cigna has found that Singapore spends a total of US$2.3 billion on stress-related illnesses – 18 percent of its total health expenditure. This placed Singapore in second place out of the nine countries studied, lagging Australia by a small margin of 0.8 percent. Other countries examined were Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, UAE, the UK, and the U.S. In the study, stress-related illnesses refer to all physical or mental symptoms that are directly linked to stress.

Stress-related illnesses are not only taking a toll on the physical and mental wellbeing of citizens, they are also sapping Singapore’s healthcare system. Public hospitals currently face capacity issues and a significant portion of hospital resources are directed towards stress-related illnesses. Yearly, over 160,000 Singaporeans are admitted to public hospitals for stress-related illnesses, representing a total cost of US$931 million. Additionally, more than 11 million GP visits linked to stress are made and 240,000 people are sent to Accident & Emergency wards in hospitals for stress-related illnesses.

Ensuring the mental wellbeing of citizens is a core pillar in forwarding Singapore’s commitment towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Robust UHC systems should support the integration of mental health services in primary care. For example, primary care staff could be further trained to detect and manage patients exhibiting signs symptoms of stress-related illnesses. Governments could also encourage the supply of counsellors and psychiatric professionals to meet rising mental healthcare needs.

 
ADVOCACY UPDATE
 
 

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 hpham@usasean.org by January 30, 2020. The Council's HLS team will be working to organize a launch event for this in 2020 alongside a program related to Vietnam's ASEAN Chairmanship or Malaysia's APEC Chairmanship.
 

2019 Business Mission to the ASEAN Secretariat
The Council will be conducting its 2019 Business Mission to the ASEAN Secretariat on Friday, December 6 in Jakarta, Indonesia. The points below will be raised on behalf of the Health & Life Sciences Committee:

  • ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting: Council was not approved to attend the 2019 ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting. Our Health & Life Sciences Committee would like to learn more about the priorities and agenda of the AHMM for the next 5 years, and how the U.S. private sector can support. In addition, any guidance on how the Council can achieve approval to attend this meeting.
  • Joint Antimicrobial Resistance Program: Council is working on developing a program on antimicrobial resistance that will cover both animal health and human health. We plan to invite policy makers from ASEAN Member States to attend this program in a key ASEAN country; representatives from the ASEAN Secretariat will also be invited to join. The program will be structured according to the National Action Plans.
  • ASEAN Pharmaceutical Products Working Group: How can the Council get involved with the PPWG? One of our key recommendations (in partnership with the EU-ASEAN Business Council) is that a dedicated ASEAN OTC/non-prescription regulation framework working group be established under the auspices of PPWG and that it will develop and be responsible for the construction of a well-defined non-prescription regulation framework. Goal is to improve medicine access across the ASEAN region.

Please contact Sunita Kapoor (skapoor@usasean.org) for questions, feedback and comments.

 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 
Brunei
HIV on the rise among younger men
Cancer patients on rise in Brunei: minister

Indonesia
Deadline looms for pneumonia vaccine
Grappling with pneumonia

Malaysia
Stigma deters Malaysians from seeking help for mental illness
Millennials form bulk of HIV cases
Malaysian health sector in desperate need of manpower boost

Myanmar
Call to ease restrictions on Myanmar-origin doctors with permanent resident status
Officials raise alarm over drug resistance
State Counsellor addresses Medical Skill, Simulation and Research Center opening ceremony in Yangon
Medical research training centre to open in Mandalay

Philippines
DOH now favors regulation of vapes, e-cigs
DOH ranks 2nd in pulse Asia's Ulat Ng Bayan survey
Lawmakers question government’s readiness to implement UHC Law
PhilHealth implements new premium rates in line with UHC
Taxing single-use plastic bags needs careful study

Singapore
Decline in new HIV cases, even as more go for voluntary screening
Greater support for medtech firms in Singapore to thrive

Thailand
Health Minister proposes Thai farmers to grow cannabis as preferred crop
Thailand ranks sixth for world's strongest health security

Vietnam
Germany holds training course for Vietnamese health business managers
Việt Nam faces challenges in fight against HIV/AIDS
Pre-exposure prophylaxis programme for people at high risk of HIV expanded
 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Brunei

HIV on the rise among younger men The Scoop 3rd Dec 2019
More younger men have been diagnosed with HIV in Brunei, raising questions on the potential impact of the lifelong health condition on work productivity. Dr Justin Wong, head of the Ministry of Health’s disease control division, said data showed HIV infections disproportionately affecting younger men since 2013, with the highest rate among the 20-35 age group. During a forum titled “Implications of HIV in The Workplace” to mark World AIDS Day 2019, he said 90 percent of HIV patients were men. Dr Wong said Brunei conducts about 200,000 medical tests every year, including HIV testing for expectant mothers and prospective foreign workers. From January to November 13 this year, 31 new HIV cases were reported and three AIDS-related deaths. A record high of 41 people were diagnosed with HIV last year. Out of the figure, 93 percent were men and 32 percent were aged 25 to 29. A total of 219 people are known to be living with HIV in the country.

Cancer patients on rise in Brunei: minister Xinhua 27th Nov 2019
The percentage of cancer patients in Brunei increased by 17 percent in the period of 2014-2018 when compared to the period of 2009-2013, the local daily Borneo Bulletin reported on Wednesday. According to the report, Brunei's Minister of Health Mohammad Isham told a press conference that in 2018, a total of 644 citizens and permanent residents of Brunei were diagnosed with cancer, and the cancer mortality rate that year was 304, representing 19 percent of the overall causes of death in the country. The health minister said his ministry has commenced a Colorectal Cancer and Breast Cancer Screening Programme, as a follow-up to the National Health Screening Programme that was introduced this year to help early detection of cancer and heart disease.

Indonesia

Deadline looms for pneumonia vaccine The Jakarta Post 25th Nov 2019
Pneumonia has been identified as one of the leading causes of death among children in Indonesia. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has declared reducing infant mortality as one of his government’s top priorities. Efforts through behavioral change and medical treatment targeted at preventing this childhood disease should, therefore, be at the heart of the government’s health programs. The 2018 Basic Health Survey (Riskesdas) shows that the prevalence of pneumonia increased last year to 2 percent from 1.85 percent in 2013. Nationwide, confirmed cases of pneumonia in children under 5 stand at about 500,000 per year from 2015 to 2018. Confirmed cases of pediatric pneumonia last year reached 505,331, of which 425 patients died. the government had also drawn a road map for the inclusion of pneumonia vaccination into its basic, complete immunization program by 2024 at the latest. However, the government’s plan to introduce PCV13 is now facing a financial barrier because it might further burden the state budget because of its high cost.

Grappling with pneumonia The Jakarta Post 25th Nov 2019
Pneumonia has been identified as one of the leading causes of death among children worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia kills more children than any other illness and accounts for nearly one in five child deaths globally. This respiratory disease has continuously been a serious health problem in the country (Indonesia). The Basic Health Survey (Riskesdas) held in 2018 showed that the prevalence of pneumonia had increased to 2 percent last year from 1.85 percent in 2013. Nationwide, confirmed cases of pediatric pneumonia last year reached 505,331, of which 425 patients died. The government has declared infant mortality reduction as one of its top priorities. However, Indonesia still relies on imports for the provision of PCV vaccinations.

Malaysia

Stigma deters Malaysians from seeking help for mental illness New Straits Times Online 3rd Dec 2019
By 2020, mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart disease. A recent survey revealed that one in every two young Malaysians (50.7 per cent), preferred to talk to a friend first when seeking help for a mental health problem, underlining the importance of the community’s access to mental health knowledge and resources. About 276 participants, through an online survey, revealed that they had a background history of being in contact with mental health services. The Malaysian Psychiatric Association (MPA), the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) and Pfizer Malaysia today jointly launched a new Mental Health Handbook aimed at enabling Malaysians to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and seek professional help early.

Millennials form bulk of HIV cases The Star Online 1st Dec 2019
Most of the new HIV cases in Malaysia involve millennials aged between 20 and 29. Of the total 3,293 new HIV infections last year, this age group accounted for 45% of the cases (1,479). This is based on data from the Health Ministry’s disease control division HIV/sexually transmitted illnesses/hepatitis C sector. The second-largest group of new HIV cases are those in their 30s, making up 31.7% (1,045) of the total, followed by Malaysians aged between 40 and 49 at 13% (439). The fight against HIV and AIDS throughout the years by the ministry had shown positive results, it said. “Over the last 10 years, we have seen a 65% drop in the number of HIV notification rate,” the ministry told Sunday Star. The number of new HIV cases has been steadily declining over the past three years, falling 3% from 3,397 in 2016 to 3,293 in 2018.

Malaysian health sector in desperate need of manpower boost CNA 26th Nov 2019
Malaysian Medical Association’s (MMA) president N. Ganabaskaran, told CNA: “There is an acute problem here. Doctors are severely overworked". He added that there has been an increase in hospitals and the number of beds in these hospitals, therefore increasing the number of patients attended to by a doctor within a stipulated time. “With insufficient doctors to stand in and do the work, the existing medical officers are stretched and forced to do more calls and longer shifts to cope with the demands,” he said. This issue has been in the spotlight, with Deputy Health Minister Lee Boon Chye reportedly saying earlier this month that he has submitted a request to the government for 10,675 additional posts in clinics and hospitals nationwide.

Myanmar

Call to ease restrictions on Myanmar-origin doctors with permanent resident status Mizzima Myanmar News 3rd Dec 2019
Minister of Health and Sports Dr. Myint Htwe said that they would ease restrictions imposed on Myanmar-origin doctors staying with permanent resident (PR) status in Myanmar. Dr. Myint Htwe said this is reply to a question as to whether there was any plan to ease restrictions imposed on Myanmar-origin medical doctors with PR status like other nations do, raised by lower house MP Dr. Than Win from North Okkalapa constituency in the parliament session on November 29. Currently the foreigner doctors have to pay 600,000 kyats per month to the government and Dr. Myint Htwe said they would completely waive current tax collection from Myanmar-origin medical specialists who are currently paying taxes at the rate of 300,000 kyats per month. North Okkalapa constituency MP Dr. Than Win told reporters that in addition to monthly tax payments, these Myanmar origin medical doctors with PR status were facing restrictions on their place of work and choice of hospital.

Officials raise alarm over drug resistance The Myanmar Times 1st Dec 2019
Dr Htay Htay Tin said antibiotics resistance in the country was skyrocketing, which leads to the inability to treat diseases. She warned that resistance to drugs develops over time, “until it becomes a bigger and bigger catastrophe. It has risen rapidly in the past three years,” Dr Htay Htay Tin said. The resistance to drugs used to treat simple problems like acne had reached 45 percent, while resistance to drugs to treat diarrhoea has reached 27pc. “Other countries are better able to control this than us. We are just starting to develop our capabilities,” she said. Dr Htay Htay Tin underscored the need for all government agencies to cooperate to prevent people from having easy access to drugs without prescriptions, especially antibiotics.

State Counsellor addresses Medical Skill, Simulation and Research Center opening ceremony in Yangon Global New Light Of Myanmar 2nd Dec 2019
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended and addressed an opening ceremony of the Medical Skill, Simulation and Research Center held in the compound of University of Medicine 1, Yangon yesterday afternoon. Present at the event were Union Ministers Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe, Dr Pe Myint, U Min Thu, Dr Myo Thein Gyi and Dr Myint Htwe, Peace Commission Chairman Dr Tin Myo Win, Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein, Yangon Region Hluttaw Speaker U Tin Maung Tun, Region government ministers, Ministry of Health and Sports Permanent Secretary, Rectors of medical and related universities, department heads, students, donors and invited guests. The Medicial Skill, Simulation and Research Center was opened by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Union Ministers Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe, Dr Pe Myint, U Min Thu, Dr Myo Thein Gyi and Dr Myint Htwe, Peace Commission Chairman Dr Tin Myo Win, Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein and Yangon Region Hluttaw Speaker U Tin Maung Tun cutting the ceremonial ribbon.

Medical research training centre to open in Mandalay The Myanmar Times 28th Nov 2019
A medical research training centre will open in Pyin Oo Lwin township in Mandalay Region next month to improve the skills of researchers and provide basic research training to students, a health ministry spokesman said. The centre, which will be under the Department of Medical Research, is a collaboration of the Ministry of Health and Sports and the Ministry of Education, according to U Thar Tun Kyaw, permanent secretary of the health ministry. “We plan to conduct the research training programme for the whole year. Not only people working in the public sector, but also people in the private sector can attend the training in Pyin Oo Lwin,” he said. The centre will provide training in research protocol writing, scientific writing, research design, and research methodology, he added.

Philippines

DOH now favors regulation of vapes, e-cigs philstar.com 3rd Dec 2019
From pushing for a total ban, the Department of Health (DOH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are now willing to go along with the regulation of electronic cigarettes and vaping products. At the start of House deliberations on bills seeking regulation of electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) products, FDA director Ana Trinidad Rivera told lawmakers that the agency and the DOH now support the proposal to only partially ban the sale and use of vapes to smokers aged 24 and below. Taking a cue from the President, the DOH had pushed for a total ban on vapes in the country. Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo earlier batted for a total ban on ENDS after announcing the first probable e-cigarette and vape-caused lung injury (EVALI) case in the country last month. Apart from stringent regulation on sale and use of ENDS, the FDA also sought mandatory graphic health warning on packages of vapes as well as prohibition on advertisements of the products with the youth as target.The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), for its part, is also pushing for strict regulation of ENDS. DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo told lawmakers that vapes and e-cigarettes should be regulated the same way as combustible tobacco is regulated by government. Their use by and sale to minors or those 17 years old and below should be banned.

DOH ranks 2nd in pulse Asia's Ulat Ng Bayan survey Republic of Philippines Department of Health 1st Dec 2019
The Department of Health (DOH) today announced that it ranked 2nd (78%) in majority approval scores among government agencies in the September Ulat ng Bayan Report of Pulse Asia. DOH ranked next to the Department of Education (DepEd) with an 81% approval rating. Duque also ranked second (67%) to DepEd chief Leonor Briones (69%) in approval rating among select cabinet members according to the same report.

Lawmakers question government’s readiness to implement UHC Law Manila Bulletin News 1st Dec 2019
Lawmakers questioned Wednesday the readiness of the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) to implement Republic Act 11223 or the “Universal Health Care (UHC) Law”. At Wednesday’s Department of Health’s briefing on UHC Law and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing asked DOH Undersecretary Mario Villaverde about the DOH’s preparedness to implement the law in terms of health facilities, staffing and funding. During the briefing, Philhealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales expressed Philhealth’s readiness to implement the program, citing its viable financial standing.

PhilHealth implements new premium rates in line with UHC Philstar 28th Nov 2019
The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) has come up with a circular on the new premium rates in line with the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) act. Based on PhilHealth Circular No. 2019-0009 signed by PhilHealth president and chief executive officer Ricardo Morales, the monthly premium rate of its members shall increase by 0.25 percent or from 2.75 percent this year to three percent in 2020. This means that those earning a monthly basic salary of P10,000, for instance, will have to pay a monthly premium of P300 in 2020, up from P275 this year. The circular, however, showed that PhilHealth had adjusted the salary brackets covered by each premium category. For instance, those who will be getting a salary of P10,000 to P59,999.99 next year will have to pay P300 to P1,800 premium, while those with an income of P60,000 will have to pay P1,800. Under the current premium ratings, PhilHealth members who receive P10,000 to P49,999.99 pay P275 to P1,375 in premium every month. Those earning P50,000 pay P1,375.

Taxing single-use plastic bags needs careful study Business Mirror 5th Dec 2019
The horror of discovering that plastic debris has now found its way into the food we eat has resulted in knee-jerk reactions, such as the call for a total ban on the use of plastic (See, “Duterte backs legislation to ban plastic use,” in the BusinessMirror, November 8, 2019). The President even signaled his preference for legislation to authorize the ban. In place of plastic, advocates of the ban want a shift to more environment-friendly packaging materials made of biodegradable matter, such as paper, which comes from trees. Following the President’s pronouncement, lawmakers at the House of Representatives have started deliberating a bill that seeks to impose excise tax on single-use plastic bags. House Committee on Ways and Means Vice Chairman Estrellita B. Suansing of Nueva Ecija said her proposal targets supermarkets, malls, shops, stores and similar establishments. However, House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. wants a total ban on single-use plastic and to hike the excise tax on reusable plastic. The protection of the environment was cited by advocates as the single biggest reason for their push to ban plastics and to slap an excise tax on single-use plastics. Unfortunately, imposing taxes will not discourage single use and will only penalize the poor who have grown dependent on plastic. For the poor, plastic bags have become the most convenient means of carrying their groceries and food items that they consume in construction sites or even in their air-conditioned offices. The tax will only be passed on to consumers and raise the price of goods and it is likely that businessmen will not absorb the cost. This has always been the case whenever government decides to tax certain items. The dependency of Pinoy consumers on plastic containers and packaging materials has given rise to an industry that may be forced to lay off workers if the government will insist on a total ban on plastics.

Singapore

Decline in new HIV cases, even as more go for voluntary screening The Straits Times 1st Dec 2019
The number of new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases reported among Singaporeans and permanent residents has gone down in recent years, even as more people are going for voluntary screenings. In line with World Aids Day on Sunday (Dec 1), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) released figures that showed a downward trend of HIV incidences here in the last four years - 275 cases were detected between January and October while 265 were diagnosed in the same period last year. The corresponding figures for 2017 and 2016 were 361 and 319 respectively. The full-year figures were 313 last year, 434 in 2017 and 408 in 2016. Doctors The Straits Times spoke to said they have noticed a greater awareness among the young here, especially those within the homosexual community. They said having HIV talked about more has reduced the stigma of the disease, with many now more willing to treat its diagnosis, whether in themselves or their friends, with a more open mind.

Greater support for medtech firms in Singapore to thrive The Business Times 1st Dec 2019
Singapore has in recent years become a hotbed for the medtech sector. According to government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG), there were over 250 homegrown medtech companies in 2018, more than double that of 2014, with over half of them being startups. This is in part due to the established medtech ecosystem in Singapore, providing the right resources and environment for their growth. While innovative medical solutions have prolonged life spans and improved the quality of life, healthcare costs are soaring. With mounting costs and growing demand for quality healthcare, it is seen as timely for medtech companies to redefine the delivery of healthcare through innovation. In Singapore, the medtech ecosystem is growing. Official data shows that in 2018, the medtech sector contributed S$13.3 billion to Singapore's economy, from just S$3.1 billion in 2008. But this does not mean the Republic can rest on its laurels. Funding problems aside, the medtech sector faces its own unique set of challenges that have to be addressed to sustain its growth.

Thailand

Health Minister proposes Thai farmers to grow cannabis as preferred crop The Thaiger 2nd Dec 2019
Thailand’s Public Health Minister is proposing farmers be allowed to grow cannabis under government supervision. Anutin Charnvirakul, also a deputy PM, says he’s signed a draft regulation allowing farmers to grow cannabis. It will be examined by the Council of State and passed to the cabinet for discussion and approval.The proposed law would allow individual farmers to grow cannabis for medicinal use. A previous draft allowed growing cannabis only as a community enterprise, and prohibited individual farmers. He says his Bhumjaithai Party’s campaign to let people grow cannabis at home hasn’t been examined by Government House yet, and the party is seeking amendments to the Narcotics Act to allow farmers to grow up to six plants.

Thailand ranks sixth for world's strongest health security Thailand Business News 1st Dec 2019
The world is unprepared for outbreaks of major infectious diseases, with Asian countries facing significant risks, according to the Global Health Security (GHS) Index 2019, released on Friday. According to the report, Thailand and South Korea were among the best-performing countries in Asia Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have ranked Thailand sixth among a total of 195 countries for the world’s strongest health security. Thailand is also Asia’s No. 1 and the only developing country on the world’s Top 10 list. South Korea is the only other Asian country to reach the top 10 with Thailand. Thailand scored 73.2 out of 100 points, despite being the only top 10 country to be in the upper middle income range. Thailand has been recognized as having the highest level of preparedness to cope with epidemics among 13 countries.

Vietnam

Germany holds training course for Vietnamese health business managers VietnamPlus 30th Nov 2019
he Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy of Germany (BMWi), the German Agency for International Cooperation, and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry held a closing ceremony in Berlin on November 30 for a training course for Vietnamese business managers in the health sector. During the four-week course, 18 Vietnamese managers were trained in c, took fact-finding trips, and set up ties with partners in the fields of health care and pharmaceuticals in German cities. Speaking at the event, a BMWi representative said the ministry will further step up ties with Vietnam in health care, including holding more training courses for Vietnam’s managerial staff.

Việt Nam faces challenges in fight against HIV/AIDS vietnamnews.vn 2nd Dec 2019
The AIDS epidemic in Việt Nam cannot be eliminated by 2030 if the country fails to reaffirm its commitment and show determination in rolling out innovative solutions to prevent the transmission of HIV. The message was delivered by Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Đức Đam at the National Ceremony on World AIDS Day on December 1 in northern Bắc Giang Province. “In 2007, it sounded like a death sentence for anyone diagnosed with HIV,” said Đam. “Nowadays, thanks to the international community applying healthcare advances, people living with HIV can now live a normal life and even give birth to HIV-negative children.”

Pre-exposure prophylaxis programme for people at high risk of HIV expanded vietnamnews.vn 2nd Dec 2019
The pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, programme will be expanded to another 15 cities and provinces as part of the country’s commitment to end HIV by 2030, according to the Việt Nam Administration for HIV/AIDS Control. In June 2017 the VAAC together with the Healthy Markets project, a five-year initiative funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and UNAIDS kicked-off the country’s first PrEP pilot in Hà Nội and HCM City. Last year in November it was expanded to another 11 provinces. More than 6,000 people have so far enrolled in the programme, including 3,946 this year.