Twelve-article special issue in Global Health Action is ‘first of its kind’ focused on Southeast Asia region

January 29, 2015 – One of Asia’s most prominent global health conferences, PMAC 2015 in Bangkok, was the site this week for the launch and presentation of a special issue of the peer reviewed journal Global Health Action titled ASEAN Integration and its Health Implications, the first publication of its kind to address public health issues related exclusively to ASEAN Integration.

With what some have termed “breathtaking vision”, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is poised to create a market comprised of more than 630 million people when ASEAN Integration becomes a reality later this year. This new, cohesive economic community is to be composed of the 10-member ASEAN states: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Such an initiative raises a multitude of public health related questions, according to Dr. Piya Hanvoravongchai, a public health physician and a cofounder of HealthSpace Asia, an online social platform for collaborative health research and policy development in Asia.

It was HealthSpace Asia, with the backing of the Rockefeller Foundation that initiated this special issue of Global Health Action. “The idea was to focus on research that addressed the potential health impacts of ASEAN Integration,” said Hanvoravongchai, pointing, as a single example, to the new challenges a more fluid, transnational skilled workforce will present – both in terms of the spread of diseases as well as health care funding.

Among topics covered in the 12-article special issue: universal health care, child immunization, the advantages and disadvantages of medical tourism and the ASEAN economic community and medical qualifications.

Hanvoravongchai refers to the paper dealing with universal health coverage as one of the most compelling in the issue. “Several ASEAN countries are aiming at achieving universal health coverage in the near future,” he said. “This paper provides country-by-country comparisons of the progress, political commitments, potential barriers – and proposes ideas for how UHC could be fully achieved and how collective health benefits can be attained in the region.”

“This being the first series of this kind of academic research focused on the region – we hope this prompts much needed policy dialogue while also triggering future studies and new finding,” said Hanvoravongchai.

Peter Byass, director of the Umeå Centre for Global Health Research, served as editor for the issue. He also mentioned the holistic picture it provides as noteworthy. “Most of the public health research articles that come out of Africa and Asia are local studies,” he said. “This is very different than what you see in Europe, for instance, where holistic studies are common. And it’s what makes this issue a particularly interesting collection of work.”

“It is new to this region of the world to work in concert on public health issues.”

The entire supplement is freely available online at Global Health Action.

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