Medical Channel Asia presents the weekly Asian medical news bulletin, bringing you essential healthcare news from across the region.
This week, we cover second booster shots in the Philippines and air Pollution in Thailand & Laos.
The Department of Health in the Philippines has announced that the second booster shots against COVID-19 are now available for the general public. This is after the country’s Food and Drug Administration updated the emergency use authorization granted to COVID-19 vaccines and the Health Technology Assessment Council issued a positive recommendation. Previously, only health workers, immunocompromised individuals, and senior citizens were allowed to take their fourth vaccine shot. As of March 16, health authorities have fully vaccinated over 78.4 million Filipinos against COVID-19. Meanwhile, health authorities have administered the first booster dose to 23.8 million individuals, and the second booster shot to nearly 4.4 million people. Hospital capacity remains below the danger zone with 14.8% of ICU beds utilized, and 16.5% non-ICU beds used.
Singapore’s Health Minister, Ong Ye Kung, has emphasised the need for Singapore to embrace and support technological advances in medical science, including precision medicine, gene editing, and artificial intelligence. However, Mr Ong noted the need to be aware of the risks and pitfalls of new medical technologies, such as the proliferation of experimental treatments that tend to work only for a small minority. He added that as new medical technology becomes established, it will likely be costly and deployed only in specific circumstances, requiring a rethink of healthcare financing policies. The Ministry of Health plans to undertake this long-term effort in partnership with researchers, physicians, economists, bioethicists, regulatory bodies and the public.
Southeast Asian countries, especially Thailand and Laos, are experiencing high levels of air pollution caused by forest fires and slash-and-burn farming. PM2.5 particulate concentrations are among the highest in the world. This leads to damage to respiratory health and impacting the tourism industry. Additionally, in Thailand, Chiang Mai is currently experiencing poor air quality, causing visitors to stay away and locals to be alarmed. Subsequently, the city, which had 10.8 million visitors in 2019, has seen hotel bookings drop to 45%, far short of the 80-90% expected. The health ministry has urged the public to wear masks and avoid outdoor activities.
The Ministry of Health in Malaysia has announced a strategic plan for reducing sugar among Malaysians from 2023 to 2025. The Ministry of Health discussed multi-sectoral actions during the 16th National Food and Nutrition Safety Council meeting. Deputy Health Minister and representatives from various ministries/agencies and non-governmental organisations attended the meeting.
The Indonesian government plans to allocate up to IDR 200.8 trillion (USD 13.4 billion) for the 2024 health care budget, an increase from the IDR 178.7 trillion set for 2023. The Finance Ministry plans to allocate up to 200.8 trillion Rp (13.4 billion USD) for the 2024 health care budget. It has a focus on tackling stunting and tuberculosis. They are the two major health concerns in the country. Also, this is the first time in four years that the government has not allocated a specific amount for COVID-19. The country ranks second globally with 969,000 new tuberculosis cases per year and aims to reduce its stunting prevalence from 21.6% in 2022 to 14% in 2024.
Many elderly people in Vietnam are struggling with multiple diseases and have shorter healthy lifespans, according to a news report by Vietnam News. The average number of healthy years for Vietnamese citizens is just 64, with health concerns looming large for the aging population. The report cited research by the Institute of Population, Health and Development. Furthermore, it states that 62.3% of elderly people in the country have high blood pressure. Additionally, only 86.3% have access to health care services. Additionally, on average, an elderly person has three diseases that require monitoring and medical care. Consequently, the number of elderly people needing medical support is expected to increase by 2.5 times the current amount by 2049. Therefore, the head of the Vietnam Association of the Elderly has called for urgent attention to improve health care services and social protection centers for the elderly.