Asia/Pacific region: Improving the quality of its healthcare


26/11/2012 - Though the rate of public spending on healthcare in the Asia/Pacific region is still well below the OECD average, countries are committing more resources to improve health care quality.

Health at a Glance: Asia/Pacific 2012 presents key indicators on health and health systems for 27 Asia/Pacific countries. A joint report by the OECD, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional offices for the Western Pacific and South-East Asia, and the OECD/Korea Policy Centre, this 2012 edition of the report also has a special chapter on quality of care initiatives in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Sri Lanka. It notes that:

  • In most Asia/Pacific countries, more than 90% of two-year-olds receive measles, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis childhood vaccinations – on a par with global best practice. India, Lao PDR, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands still fall far short of this figure.
  • Japan has one of the lowest case-fatality rates for stroke, with less than 2% of patients dying within 30 days after ischaemic stroke. However, 10% of Japanese patients die within 30 days of having a heart attack, compared to 8% in Singapore, 6% in the Republic of Korea and 3% in New Zealand. All countries need to attend to crucial aspects of health care quality such as emergency services, patient safety and robust data reporting.
  • Although death rates from cancer are decreasing, little is known about the quality of cancer care in the Asia/Pacific region. Cervical cancer mortality varies from 1.0 per 100,000 females in Australia to 10.9 in Cambodia, suggesting scope to improve prevention, early detection through screening and fast access to effective treatment.

Other findings from Health at a Glance: Asia/Pacific 2012 include:

Health status

  • Life expectancy at birthacross 22 Asian countries reached 72.2 years in 2010, a gain of more than 15 years since 1970. OECD countries gained, on average, 10 years over the same period.
  • The infant mortality rate has more than halved across the region since 1980, but at an average of 26 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2010, it is still more than six times the OECD rate.
  • Cardiovascular diseases and cancers cause around two-thirds of all deaths, a lower proportion than in OECD countries. Communicable diseases remain a significant cause of death.
  • Over 60% of the 7.5 million people in the world suffering from tuberculosis live in the region.

Determinants of Health

  • Calorie intake has risen from around 2 300 kcal/person/day in 1990 to 2 600 in 2009. But more than half a billion people (15% of the total population in the region) remain undernourished.
  • Access to improved drinking-water is high in the Asia/Pacific region at 89% of the population, but over one billion people (30%) cannot access improved sanitation.
  • Around 36% of adult males in the Asia/Pacific region smoke daily, higher than the OECD average (27%). The female rate is lower, however (5% vs. 17%).

Health Care Resources and Utilisation

  • The supply of doctors and nurses in the region, at around 1.3 and 2.8 per 1 000 population respectively, is well below the OECD average of 3.1 and 8.7.
  • The number of hospital beds varies considerably. Though it is very high in Japan at over 13 beds per 1 000 population, the average in the Asia/Pacific region is 2.5 beds, fewer than the OECD average of 4.9.
  • Around 85% of pregnant women in the Asia/Pacific region receive at least one antenatal visit and the proportion of births assisted by medical professionals increased in the last decade, reaching 78% in 2010.

Health Expenditure and Financing

  • Asian economies spend just over USD 600 per person per year on health, against USD 3200 in OECD countries. This amounts to over 4.5% of GDP, on average, in the Asian region, compared to over 9.5% in OECD countries.
  • The share of public spending in total health spending is much lower in Asia compared to OECD countries: 57% vs. 72% respectively.
  • The growth rate in per capita health spending in real terms was 5.6% per year in Asia, on average between 2000-2010, higher than the 3.6% observed across OECD countries. The growth rate for China, Myanmar and Viet Nam was even more rapid – almost twice the average rate for the region.

An electronic version of the report is available at  

For further information, contact:

Mark Pearson of the OECD Health Division (+ 33 1 45 24 92 69 or

Luca Lorenzoni of the OECD Health Division (+33 1 45 24 76 21 or

Dr Henk Bekedam, Director, Division of Health Sector Development, WHO (+632 528 9802 or

Dr Monir Islam, Director, Department of Health Systems Development, WHO (+911 1233 70804 or


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