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Project: Social Protection

Social Protection In Southeast Asia: Moving towards Universal Health Care

Social protection is associated with a range of public institutions, norms and programmes aimed at protecting workers and their households from contingencies threatening their basic living standards. Social protection measures have emerged to address poverty and vulnerability and to mitigate unexpected risks in developing economies.

One important component of the social protection system is the provision of universal health care to its citizens. The Regional Economic Studies Programme concentrates its research on the provision of health care in Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Health is a very important component of economic development. The provision of universal coverage brings into focus the importance of health as a public good. As such, financing health care may need to move beyond the consideration of just providing a reasonable financial return for that investment. Social considerations of equity, accessibility, and assistance to the underprivileged would also need to be taken into account.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Health Financing Strategy for the Asia Pacific Region (2010-2015) is used as a baseline framework to evaluate the healthcare system of all three countries. The WHO guidelines recommend that:

  • Total health expenditure should be at least 4 to 5 percent of GDP;
  • Out-of-pocket expenses should not exceed 30 to 40 percent of total health expenditure;
  • Over 90 percent of the population should be covered by prepayment and risk pooling schemes;
  • Countries should achieve close to 100 percent coverage of vulnerable populations with social assistance and safety-net programmes.

Our research seeks to address these questions: How is healthcare financed respectively in each of the three countries? Is the current financing system sustainable? Does the public healthcare system adequately provide an adequate social safety net to protect the vulnerable? What are some policy measures that can be implemented to enhance the healthcare systems in these countries?


Current Projects

Health care in Indonesia and Thailand

This project undertakes a comparative study of the provision of universal health care in Indonesia and Thailand. This includes examining the role of state in providing health care as well as the economic considerations that have influenced the state in making decisions to deliver health services, health coverage, and human resources for health. Thailand already has a universal health care law and has implemented it under its “30 Baht” system. Indonesia has the legislation, but has yet to implement it. This study combines quantitative and qualitative approaches to evaluate how present healthcare systems are financed and whether they are financially sustainable.

Health care in Malaysia

This study focuses on health care in Malaysia from a political-economy approach. It aims to provide a critique on the present health care system in Malaysia through an extensive literature survey as well as data collection through official and published sources. Interest groups with government links are presently behind the increasing privatization of health care services in Malaysia. This occurs at the expense of public health care. Powerful interest groups are seeking profits over a genuine concern for allocative efficiency and the general welfare of citizens. This study raises the following questions: how accessible is the health care system for Malaysians in both urban and rural sectors? Has the state placed a high priority on the provision of universal health care for the less privileged? What are some of the measures that have been implemented in recent years in terms of providing a universal health care system in Malaysia? What are some of the challenges that remain?  

Recent Research Products:

Special Policy Focus: "Building Social Protection Systems in Southeast Asia" 
Journal of Southeast Asian Economies, Vol. 31/1 (Apr 2014)


For more information on this research project, please contact Lee Poh Onn: polee@iseas.edu.sg or Aris Ananta: RES: aananta@iseas.edu.sg