Southeast Asia's Fishing Industry
A 2018 article by The Asia Foundation stated that roughly 12% of the global population depends on fisheries and the aquaculture industry for their livelihoods and more than 50% of the global population relies on fish and seafood as a major source of protein. Over the past few decades, Southeast Asia has established a fishing metropolis but the region has struggled with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. However, in the last five to 10 years, the region has begun to regulate Southeast Asia’s fishing industry and watch for illegal fishing. There are many important reasons to regulate the fishing industry, including keeping the ecosystem healthy and populated.

The Fishing Industry

Southeast Asia, consisting of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei and Timor-Leste, has some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) estimates that Southeast Asia contributed approximately 52% of total fishery production globally in 2018, reaching 46.5 million MT of fish at a value of more than $51 billion.

Identifying the Problem

The Asia Foundation said that about “64[%]of the fisheries’ resource base is at a medium to high risk from overfishing.” Cambodia and the Philippines hold the highest risks. Some common methods of destructive fishing are:

  • Poison fishing – “using sodium cyanide to stun the fish and make them easier to capture.”
  • Blast fishing – uses “dynamite or grenades to indiscriminately kill fish in the immediate vicinity.”
  • Ghost fishing – leaving fishing gear in the sea, which will float in the sea and trap and kill marine life.

Most of the overfishing destruction seen in Southeast Asia is due to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU). In 2018, The Asia Foundation said that to keep the fishing industry of Southeast Asia alive, the region would “need to decrease all destructive fishing practices and reduce harvest by nearly 50%.”

Health Concerns

The world widely recognizes that fish is a vital source of food. Low in saturated fatty acids, a source of protein and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, fish is consumed across the world. There are several concerns when it comes to the relationship between overfishing and human health.

To begin with, overfishing harms the marine ecosystem. From pollution of oils and gas via fishing boats to removing an unnaturally large fish population from the seas, there is a clear trend of regression of reefs and shifts in the marine ecosystem food chain.

At the top of the food chain, humans feel the ripple effect below them. If the location of fisheries experiences pollution due to fishing techniques such as poison or blast fishing, then humans eat the polluted fish.

Although these factors may impact the health of humans, just as significant is the concern of food security. According to Reuters, “In Bangladesh, Cambodia, Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and some small island developing states, fish contributed 50% or more of total animal protein intake.”

Visible Progress

In March 2018, The Asia Foundation met with the U.S. Department of State, the Royal Thai Government and the People’s Republic of China to create a regional assessment of fisheries to safeguard food security in Southeast Asia and Southeast Asia’s fishing industry. Specifically, experts from these groups looked into developing a legal framework to improve fishery management and combat IUU fishing. In addition, the groups looked at “emerging new technologies to support sustainable fisheries management.”

Most of Southeast Asia consists of developing countries that do not have the accessibility and financial support to outsource fish and protein in the event of the fishing industry collapsing, not to mention the millions of job losses that would ensue. Policy and regulations to better control Southeast Asia’s fishing industry will not only allow for a sustainable fishing environment but will also increase food security and ensure better health for Southeast Asia.

– Sierra Winch
Photo: Flickr

Vaccines to Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia sits as an outlier in its success as a region in managing the pandemic. In fact, countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand were better prepared to deal with the pandemic than most. Without hesitation, countries in the area utilized their experience and resources to manage the outbreaks in a fashion that prevented high economic costs. Nonetheless, after recent spikes and a lack of access to vaccines, a worry is growing in policymakers across the region that inoculating the populations will be difficult to accomplish. COVAX is a WHO initiative that provides significant assistance in this struggle as it has promised millions of vaccinations to countries across the region. COVAX donated millions of vaccines to Southeast Asia to assist in its inoculation outreach.

Southeast Asia and COVID-19

Aside from a few outliers including Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, much of Southeast Asia has fared well managing the pandemic. For example, Brunei, Vietnam, Timor Liste, Laos and Singapore all have total COVID-19 related deaths under 100. Similarly, both Cambodia and Thailand are under 1,000 COVID-19 related deaths. Almost all of these countries boast populations in the millions, with Vietnam alone having nearly 100 million people.

In sharp contrast, the wealthier developed nations in Northeast Asia fared far worse than the underdeveloped neighbors to the south. Japan has recorded 11,940 deaths and over 650,000 cases. Less stark, South Korea has recorded nearly 2,000 deaths and over 134,000 cases. 

Essentially, Southeast Asian nations achieved this through a decisive response to the initial outbreak and a culture that made universal mask-wearing (95% of Thais and 94% of Vietnamese wear masks in public) and precautions palatable. The efficiency in response emerged from experience in dealing with previous outbreaks including SARS, bird flu and dengue fever. As cases began to rise in China and worry about the virus grew, countries across the region sprang into action. Southeast Asian countries initiated lockdowns, border closures, contact tracing and widespread testing. Many instituted public service campaigns to promote safety precautions, including mask-wearing and social distancing. 


Vietnam illustrates this point well. Despite sharing a border with the epicenter of China, it has been a rare success story. After dealing with the SARS and the bird flu in 2000, it increased its medical infrastructure investment by 9% a year. As a result, when news about COVID-19 began to come out of Wuhan, Vietnam acted decisively. The country increased its screening procedures and extended the Lunar holiday to keep families at home. Vietnam also chose localized lockdowns as clusters developed, opposed to nationwide lockdowns that impose high economic costs. The national government also had a thorough testing and a contact tracing regime that slowed down the spread through proactive quarantining.


Nevertheless, the resources and experience that lend themselves to managing the pandemic with efficiency are not necessarily applicable to inoculating the population. Southeast Asia does not have an established pharmaceutical industry that can develop a homegrown vaccine. As a region filled with low- to middle-income countries, purchasing the vaccines necessary to inoculate the entire population is difficult. Without a vaccinated population, states remain vulnerable to COVID-19 spikes.

As a result, the vaccination rates are low in most Southeast Asian nations. As of May 17, 2021, none of the states in the region have vaccinated more than 10% of their population, except for Singapore, which vaccinated 23% of its population. Cambodia is the second-largest vaccinated population at 7% while Brunei is the least vaccinated at 0.2%. All other Southeast Asian states fall within the two rates.

The lack of vaccinations has become acutely problematic as Southeast Asia is bracing for a new wave of infections that threatens to become unmanageable. Cambodia’s daily rate shot up to nearly 500 a day. In the last three weeks, Laos has seen daily cases rise tenfold. Even in Vietnam, the poster child of managing the pandemic, “community transmissions began climbing sharply [as] workers have been told to prepare for 30,000 patients.” As Southeast Asia deals with the new surge, vaccinating its population becomes critical.


Nevertheless, to make up for this shortfall, WHO has donated millions of vaccines to Southeast Asia through COVAX. It began on March 2, 2021, when Cambodia received 300,000 vaccines. On April 23, 2021, Malaysia received 268,000 doses, and WHO aims to provide Malaysia 6 million in total. On May 8, Indonesia received 1.3 million AstraZeneca COVAX procured vaccines and is supposed to receive 6 million by the end of May. The Philippines received 2 million AstraZeneca vaccines and 193,000 Pfizer vaccines. Meanwhile, in late March, Vietnam welcomed 811,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in its first batch of vaccines from the COVAX fund.

As the world looks to turn the corner towards a post-pandemic world, vaccinating lower to middle-income countries similar to those in Southeast Asia is a necessary and critical step. Work must occur to inoculate the region to levels to allow a post-pandemic world to manifest. For example, BioNTech announced that it would develop a new manufacturing space. External powers including the Quad, China and Russia promise millions more in vaccine donations and further COVAX procured donations. Yet, WHO took a critical first step when COVAX donated millions of vaccines to Southeast Asia.

Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

vaccine insecurity in Southeast Asia
On March 12, 2021, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — known as the “Quad” — met at a virtual summit to discuss concerning issues across the Indo-Pacific. The Quad comprises Australia, Japan, the United States and India. Recently, they committed to providing one billion vaccines to the Indo-Pacific by 2022. The main focus is on Southeast Asia, which is struggling to inoculate its population. In other words, the Quad is taking on vaccine insecurity in Southeast Asia.

The Quad’s History

The Quad, which was formed in 2004, is a meeting format for the four influential democracies in the Indo-Pacific to discuss regional security issues. Originally, these democracies coordinated joint search and rescue missions and humanitarian aid in response to the Boxing Day Tsunami’s decimation of large areas of South and Southeast Asia. From there, the Quad met one more time in 2007 before disbanding for a decade.

However, the group began reconvening again at a ministerial level in 2017. The members became mutually concerned over the terrorism and Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific. As a result, the four foreign policies began supporting a rules-based international system and a free and open Indo-Pacific. This intersection had a heightened sense of importance as the group convened its first-ever leader-level summit in March 2021.

The motivation of the organization is not entirely clear. Some refer to it as an “Asian-Nato” intent on countering China‘s rise in the region. Others claim it is a group of like-minded, influential states coordinating responses to some of the most pressing issues of the day, including the environment, terrorism, COVID-19 response and humanitarian aid.

“The Spirit of the Quad”

Despite how others define the Quad’s intent, the latest summit concentrated less on geopolitics and more on issues plaguing the region. It released a statement entitled “The Spirit of the Quad.” This shared how the group focused on important humanitarian and anti-poverty issues of democratic values. Some of these are international law, infrastructure investment and disaster relief. Nevertheless, the most pressing issue the summit addressed was the coronavirus pandemic.

During the summit, the Quad “pledged to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19.” It will do this by “building on the progress countries have achieved on health security [and] expand safe, affordable and effective vaccine production and equitable access, to speed economic recovery and benefit global health.”

The Plan

To achieve these results, the Quad will utilize the individual strengths of each member. For example, India is one of the largest vaccine developers in the world. Even before COVID-19, it developed 60% of the world’s vaccines. The Deloitte consulting firm partner, PS Earwaran, predicts that the Indian government will produce nearly 3.5 billion doses in 2021.

However, to increase that amount, the United States will provide technology and intellectual property rights to improve production methods. In addition, Japan will help finance the production upgrades. For Australia’s part, it will also assist with financing. More importantly, however, it will utilize its unique distribution capacity in Southeast Asia.

Additionally, the Quad will work through international organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and COVAX. COVAX is particularly important because it is an international vaccine program. This program supports vaccine accessibility in the underdeveloped world. The goal of the COVAX program is to distribute two billion doses of vaccines to 94 lower and middle-income countries by the end of 2021.

Notably, the Quad is prioritizing Southeast Asia in its vaccine distribution. As the National Security Advisor for President Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan stated, “The Quad committed to delivering one billion doses to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), the Indo-Pacific and beyond by the end of 2022.”

Vaccine Insecurity in Southeast Asia

At first glance, Southeast Asia seemingly would not need the Quad’s focus due to its successful handling of the pandemic. The Sydney-based Lowy Institute created a performance index and ranking of 98 states and how each government handled the pandemic. The institute found that five of the seven Southeast Asian nations included were in the top 24 states. This ranked higher than Germany, Japan and the United States.

However, purchasing and distributing vaccines takes a different set of administrative skills and resources than containing a virus, leaving poorer nations more vulnerable. In other words, upper-middle-income countries with the administrative ability and resources like Singapore could hit widespread inoculation by mid-2022. Yet, with Vietnam being the exception, the rest of Southeast Asia is not likely to fair as well. The Economist Intelligence Unit recently reported that a bulk of the region’s population, including Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, will take at least two years, maybe longer, to reach widespread vaccination.

It is not just poorer nations in the region that are struggling to inoculate their population. Although Malaysia is a middle-income country that just initiated a historic immunization program, it is struggling to vaccinate its entire population at an efficient rate. As of March 19, 2021, Malaysia had administered on average 22,215 vaccinations a week with a total of 367,213 doses. Assuming that everyone will need two doses each, this means only 0.6% of the population has received vaccinations. At that rate, it will take another 288 days to reach 10% of the population.

Although Southeast Asia has been relatively successful in containing the outbreak, it clearly needs assistance in vaccinating its population. In March 2021, the Quad committed to pooling each state’s comparative resources and expertise to take on vaccine insecurity in Southeast Asia. The Quad’s commitment is critical for the region’s health and post-pandemic recovery.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Poverty in Southeast AsiaCambodia and other Southeast Asian nations struggled economically well before the pandemic and COVID-19 threatens to send millions of people further into poverty.  The Southeast Asia Strategy Act shows the United States’ commitment to supporting Southeast Asian nations in an effort to promote peace and stability and alleviate poverty in Southeast Asia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an inter-governmental organization made up of 10 member states, has worked for decades to facilitate economic growth and prosperity in Southeast Asia. Established in 1967 in Thailand, ASEAN was originally comprised of five member states: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Over the next several decades, ASEAN membership grew to 10 nations. This happened when Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam joined the partnership.
The primary aim of ASEAN is to encourage economic cooperation, development and growth in Southeast Asia. ASEAN member states also work together to facilitate the more effective usage of agricultural resources in the region, fostering growth in trade between ASEAN member states and the international community at large.

Finding Security

After the United States pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2017, safety, security and economic prosperity have been uncertain in the region. This led to fears of increased Chinese aggression and dominance in Southeast Asia. ASEAN member states are seeking reassurance that the United States will help the states maintain economic independence from China.

The Southeast Asia Strategy Act, introduced in the House by Reps. Ann Wagner and Joaquin Castro on February 15, 2021, aims to reaffirm the United States’ support for ASEAN member states. The Southeast Asia Strategy Act, which passed in the House in April 2021, would mandate that the federal government “develop and submit to the appropriate congressional committees a comprehensive strategy for engagement with Southeast Asia and ASEAN.” The strategy must include a description to expand “broad based and inclusive economic growth” in the region.

Importantly, ASEAN member states invest heavily in the United States economy — more than China and India combined. These states collectively generate more than half a million U.S. jobs. The United States has never articulated a “comprehensive strategy” in the region before. However, “ASEAN diplomats and U.S. think tanks are eager for the U.S. to be on the record about its plans to engage with ASEAN.” The Southeast Asia Strategy Act would prompt the United States to do just that.

Working Together

ASEAN’s work to facilitate economic growth in Southeast Asia is vital. An ASEAN report in 2020 emphasized the commitment of ASEAN member states to providing a “social protection framework” that is responsive to emerging risks and vulnerabilities in the region, including climate change, disasters and economic crises. According to the report, the social protection framework would help protect citizens from destitution, poverty and decreasing income rates.

By working together, ASEAN member states have made strides toward reducing poverty in Southeast Asia, improving childhood health outcomes and increasing access to higher quality basic education. Thailand improved rates of child stunting from 25% to 11% over a span of 30 years. This was through specific community-based nutritional initiatives in poverty-stricken areas. In addition, Vietnam’s remarkable basic education system shows the benefits that ASEAN member states bring about for citizens. This was successful in part “due to the nation’s commitment to education reform and substantial public spending.”

The Road Ahead

The United States’ support of ASEAN member states is crucial in the effort to mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19. This is also needed to support future economic growth and prosperity in Southeast Asia. Mandating that the United States federal government devise a cohesive strategy will help in the support of ASEAN member nations. The Southeast Asia Strategy Act will fight poverty in the region by encouraging the United States to help. This will assist in facilitating the important work ASEAN has done to support economic growth over the past several decades.

Thomas McCall
Photo: Flickr

Blockchain in Southeast Asia
Early 2021 saw the formation of a new partnership between the San Diego-based blockchain platform, Solana, and the Vietnam-based investment firm, Coin98 Ventures. Together, they plan to provide a grant of $100,000 and technical, marketing and community support for Southeast Asian startups via the Solana platform. In total, the development fund will be worth $5 million. Solana’s development fund is among a trend of growing interest from private companies along with increasing government support across the region, now seeing supporting blockchain technology as a practical part of a development strategy. As a result, blockchain in Southeast Asia is increasing.

What is a Blockchain?

At its core, blockchain is an innovative database. Unlike the traditional form of storing data in a table format, blockchain operates as its name suggests: as a chain of blocks. Each block contains data, and each new inputted information adds a new block to the chain. When a new block is added, it undergoes time-stamping and encryption.

Essentially, blockchain software provides a secure and decentralized form of storing data, particularly financial data. The software operates on an algorithm to automatically record and encrypt transactions without a third party’s costly support. As a result, blockchain decentralizes financial transactions while also making them cheaper.

Blockchain: An Expanding Market

The blockchain market comprises one of the fastest-growing in the world. In 2020, the market size was $3 billion. The Markets and Markets firm predicts it to reach $39.7 billion by 2025. Moreover, its Compound Annual Growth Rate is a stunning 67.3%.

One can partly explain this growth rate by increasing access to the internet and e-commerce in the world. Access to the internet has increased rapidly. In 2000, about 413 million people had an internet connection; by 2016, this number jumped to 3.4 billion.

The Benefits of Blockchain

Billions of people still experience exclusion from financial tools and cannot use anything other than physical cash for transactions. As of 2017, 1.7 billion people across the globe remained unbanked. However, by sidestepping financial institutions, blockchain decentralizes banking and opens up possibilities for many locked out of traditional financial tools such as transferring and storing digital currency and investing.

Cutting out the middleman reduces the fees involved in transactions, which often run high. This is particularly important for migrant workers who pay high transaction rates to transfer money back home to their families. For example, in 2018, Western Union reported a $5.5 billion profit in fees from the money transfers in the same year.

Additionally, blockchain reduces the cost of doing business. It cuts overhead costs by lowering transaction fees, upgrading analytical tools to understand the market/customer needs and protecting and storing data more efficiently. For instance, by the year 2024, expectations have determined that blockchain will save the food industry $31 billion. And in early 2020, Cargill and Agrocorp and partners used a blockchain platform to shorten a U.S.-Indonesia wheat transaction from a month to a mere five days.

Blockchain in Southeast Asia

Perhaps more than any other region, Southeast Asia can benefit most from blockchain’s developmental potential. As a region, it has a high internet penetration rate of 58%. Moreover, it is an underbanked region with a shocking 73% of its population still unbanked in 2017. Additionally, Southeast Asia has a large migrant worker population around the globe who would benefit from blockchain. In 2017, the International Labor Organization estimated that of the migrant worker population, 20.2 million originate from Southeast Asia. Finally, as a manufacturing hub with a large e-commerce presence, blockchain technology plays an essential role in facilitating online shopping and supply-chain tracking and data storage.

Appropriately, Southeast Asian governments have supported this nascent technology. For starters, the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has embraced the technology in its Economic Community 2025 Strategic Action Plan for Financial Integration. The organization claims that it will “promote innovative financial inclusion via digital platforms.”

Likewise, countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines have invested in blockchain education programs to promote its development. Singapore, for instance, launched a $9 million program, the Singapore Blockchain Innovation Program, to facilitate and research blockchain applications. Vietnam, for its part, has transitioned the storage of government education records to blockchain technology and has plans to use block-chain infrastructure to transition Ho Chi Minh city to a smart city.

Southeast Asian Blockchain Companies

Through this support, hundreds of blockchain start-ups are rapidly growing across the region, utilizing blockchain in diverse ways that cut across different sectors. Some of the significant blockchain companies that illustrate its diversity are:

  • Electrify (Singapore): Founded in 2017 to introduce “trans-active energy platforms that will democratize access to clean energy across the Asia Pacific.”
  • Pundi-X (Indonesia): Partners with retailers worldwide to install its XPOS – a blockchain-powered point-of-sale device that allows retailers to accept cryptocurrency.
  • LuxTag (Malaysia): Utilizes blockchain to verify the authenticity of luxury items.
  • HARA (Indonesia): Founded in 2015, it relies on its blockchain software to provide data exchange for the food and agriculture sectors.

Blockchain’s potential as a developmental force is palpable. The growing blockchain market in Southeast Asia is vital for development in the region. It gives many people access to financial tools who otherwise would not have it while also easing business flow across industries. These factors have propelled blockchain in Southeast Asia as a critical tool in its development.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The State of Malaria in South-East AsiaAlthough Malaria remains at the forefront of global health issues, malaria in Southeast Asia represents a success story in terms of mobilizing aid in the fight against the disease. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 8 million malaria cases, a decline of 69% since 2010, marking the largest decline of all WHO regions.

Direct Aid Strategies

Southeast Asia has been the target of hefty aid strategies from a variety of organizations. The aid primarily comes from the WHO and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As the Global Fund puts it, “The fight against malaria is one of the biggest public health successes of the 21st century.” The multi-pronged strategies used by these organizations begin with a tactic known as surveillance.

Surveillance involves testing, record-keeping and reporting malaria cases. Surveillance systems have become more efficient. As a result, health care systems maintain a much more refined picture of malaria cases in any given region. This eventually gains “near real-time individual case data in small areas.”

Vector control is limiting contact between people and the mosquitos that transmit the disease. It has also helped eliminate malaria in Southeast Asia. One of the most effective means to achieve this is the wide-scale distribution of insecticidal mosquito nets. So far, the Global Fund has donated 142 million nets, providing a simple means for those in rural and urban areas alike to protect themselves.

Strengthening Local Health Care Systems

Besides direct aid, many organizations also turn to bolster already-existing local health care systems in the fight against malaria in Southeast Asia.

Malaria Consortium is a nonprofit organization specializing in addressing the disease. It began working in Myanmar in 2016 to train locals in rural areas to administer essential health services. Malaria Consortium also taught local health workers to treat malaria, working to close the gap in rural health care.

In one village, 13 health care workers received training in the treatment of malaria and other diseases common to the area. These workers went on to teach local mothers and adolescents, expanding the web of health care knowledge even further. By the end of the program, 90% of trainees could diagnose malaria cases correctly. Trainees were also able to run malaria diagnostic tests and administer Artemisinin. Artemisinin is the most widely used drug to treat the disease.

Concerns with Treating Malaria

Aid has been successful in treating malaria in Southeast Asia. However, a new drug-resistant strain on the rise reignites concerns around the disease. Artemisinin-resistant malaria has the potential to undermine malaria prevention and was first recorded in the Mekong River region of Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. In 2014 and 2015, studies conducted by Vietnam’s National Malaria Control Program found treatment failure rates ranging from 26% to 46%.

From the perspectives of nonprofits and medical experts, the rise of this new Artemisinin-resistant malaria in Southeast Asia means surveillance efforts must be bolstered to prevent global spread. Likewise, instead of merely treating already-present cases, the goal must be to prevent transmission in the first place. Chris Plowe, the director of the Duke Global Health Institute, is using all the tools available to the institute to eliminate aggressive malaria in the Greater Mekong subregion.

Overall, direct aid, community mobilization and the bolstering of health care systems have transformed a region once fraught with malaria. As these efforts continue, malaria in Southeast Asia moves closer toward its extinction.

Jane Dangel
Photo: Flickr 

The Healthcare System in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, is home to more than 9% of the world’s population. With ongoing rapid rates of urbanization and development within Southeast Asian (SEA) countries like Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines, many nations must transition through various changes. One area that is changing is healthcare due to the area’s overcrowded populations. Here is some information about the healthcare system in Southeast Asia.

Healthcare System in SEA vs. Growing Populations

Southeast Asia has been experiencing forms of economic and social changes like never before. Urbanization has been a common factor for these changes; currently, approximately half of the SEA population lives in urban areas. Though the middle/upper class has expanded from urbanization, this region has not solved all of its economic problems. As of 2017, around 40% of the world’s poor still resided in Southeast Asia.

The most pressing concern, however, is the changes that will occur for the healthcare system in Southeast Asia over the next two decades. Within this time, expectations have determined that the population size of older individuals (aged over 65 years) will jump from 7% to 14%. This rapid aging in the population could also increase stress on the already-exhausted healthcare systems within various countries in SEA.

The overcrowded medical facilities (with approximately one bed per 1,000 people) and lack of skilled healthcare workers in SEA (overall less than 2.8 workers per 1,000 people) allow this region particularly susceptible to healthcare overuse and exhaustion.

As populations continue to grow and demographics continue to change, the healthcare system in Southeast Asia carries the weight of these people on its shoulders.

What Does “Overuse” Mean?

In a medical context, “overuse” is when prescribed treatment for the patient may create the possibility for more harm than good, or is unnecessary for the betterment of the patient. Contrary to common assumptions, the “overuse” of medical resources does not only occur in developed countries.

Healthcare systems in rich and poor countries alike are prone to excessive suggestions for treatment and inappropriate means of disease intervention. Statistics have shown that countless countries in the world, including both China and Vietnam, regularly overuse antibiotics, amongst other medical expenditures (screening tests, diagnostic tests, etc.). Medical professionals also incorrectly prescribed over 55% of children diagnosed with diarrhea in Thailand.

Past excessive health screenings and the overuse of antibiotic medication can also increase antibiotic resistance, which creates an even greater level of complexity to this dilemma. While these long-term consequences can pose harm for everyone, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are at a particular disadvantage.

Overmedicalization can be a huge issue, especially for those who live in poverty. Overuse leads to improper medical care at higher costs, which disproportionately affects poor communities. In countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines, individuals rely on out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs and coverage of inadequate medical insurance. For those living in poverty, many of these costly out-of-pocket medical expenditures could instead go toward food, housing and education. Overuse not only wastes resources and creates additional public health risks to all populations but it also causes an additional unnecessary burden on the lives of low-income individuals worldwide.

Steps Towards the Future

Many efforts are emerging to address the problem of possible healthcare overuse in SEA. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has made healthcare improvements a priority issue in many countries. Governments in countries like Vietnam and Indonesia have increased budgets in their healthcare systems to accommodate their aging populations.

The Lown Institute held the Avoiding Avoidable Care Conference in 2012, focused on educating others about the dangers of medical overuse. After this conference gained traction, the Lown Institute conducted global research to determine the scale of healthcare overuse in SEA and around the globe. This research occurred with 27 international experts from 21 different institutions and The Lancet published it in 2017––thus framing ideas for policy reformation and discourse on medical services around the globe.

Countless organizations focused on antibiotic resistance have also emerged (Alliance for Prudent Use of Antibiotics, World Alliance Against Antibiotic Resistance, etc.). However, the root of the problem––overuse of healthcare systems––has a long fight to go.

As more research occurs over the next few years, the healthcare system in SEA is open to many hopeful changes in its policy, practice and peoples.

– Vanna Figueroa
Photo: Flickr

Nourish Impoverished Communities
It is no secret that the United States is home to some of the biggest brands in the world. From cosmetics to food products, American brands influence many things global consumers see on their shelves in one way or another. Here is how four American brands help nourish impoverished communities.


Avon Cosmetics has been benefitting women since the mid-1950s through the creation of the Avon Foundation. For the past 65 years, more than $1 billion has gone toward sustaining women and their families all over the globe. The Avon Foundation’s humanitarian practices have opened up in more than 50 markets across nations, allowing women to feel empowered and begin their own businesses. Any woman can apply to become a representative using Avon’s online website.

Avon Connect is a program that sets the foundation for women to begin their dream businesses. The program provides education on the basics of sales and marketing to nearly 500,000 women worldwide. Through participation, women create jobs for themselves by becoming one of Avon’s Beauty Advisers.


Nestle does not only offer water and coffee, the company also implements programs to help nourish impoverished communities around the globe. The company was originally a Swiss brand but has since expanded its locations worldwide. Now, the United States is one of its larger consumers, and it works with farmers and suppliers all over the world. By providing work for those in rural areas, Nestle creates a sustainable supply of food in those communities.

Nestle’s program Global Alliance for YOUth has helped alleviate the problem of unemployment within younger demographics. It provides work opportunities for young people, despite the lack of experience they may have. The program also encourages young people to become entrepreneurs and take control of their own business. By 2030, YOUth plans to benefit 10 million youths by providing employment and skills to help further their lives. Nestle’s Global Alliance for YOUth program brings together 21 international companies to help employ around 15 million youths by 2022.


Walmart has provided neighborhoods with fair prices and good products since its beginning. The company aims for its global suppliers to be sustainable and responsible in the workplace. In fact, it has over 100,000 responsible suppliers around the globe. Walmart strengthens not only consumers but also those who help nourish impoverished communities.

In 2010, Walmart decided to actively help alleviate global hunger. More than $2 billion in food donations and grants went toward starving communities. In 2015, it donated around four billion meals to help the hungry. Walmart hopes to benefit an additional four million in 2020 by providing more meals and increasing education.

Walmart contributes to its local communities no matter the country. In 2019, Walmart provided over two million jobs in 27 countries. Employment is beneficial for those working toward upward mobility out of poverty. Walmart, with its 11,300 locations, helps provide just that.


Almost two billion people worldwide have not implemented banking into their lives. Visa is here to help fix that. In one year alone, Visa provided financial systems for nearly 500 million people. Its help went to women and those living in rural areas —those least likely to have any sort of financial aid.

Through Visa, many have been able to better support and sustain their small businesses. As a result, many have been able to acquire the skills they need to efficiently work in their business and develop the most appropriate services for growing their economy. Visa’s Practical Business Skills, founded in 2019, has helped small businesses from the beginning stages, allowing more efficient and proper company growth.

For instance, in Southeast Asia, Visa partnered with a large payment service to encourage all to improve their banking literacy. In Mexico, over 11 million people have started their own banking account with a Visa-partnered Mexican financial institution. Through the global implementation of Visa, people have been able to improve their finances, which helps nourish impoverished communities worldwide.

Global poverty is a huge and pressing issue. These American big brands can help people manage their lives with a bit more ease by providing support.

Karina Wong
Photo: Flickr

Childhood Stunting in Bangladesh
Stunting is the impaired development of children usually due to malnutrition. The People’s Republic of Bangladesh in South East Asia has had one of the highest levels of stunting for children under 5-years-old. It measured at 45% of children under 5 in 2000. A growing national economy has reduced the number of childhood stunting in Bangladesh to 36%. However, this is still a high considering that poor nutrition in the first years of a child’s life can contribute to irreversible damage to health, growth and development.

With the aid of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Bangladesh government’s National Nutrition Council Executive Committee has put forward a Second National Plan of Action for Nutrition targeting improvements in countrywide sustenance. It is the first funded nutrition program of its kind in Bangladesh. Nutrition is an area that requires addressing in the country. As a result, nonprofit organizations including UNICEF, CARE and the World Bank have worked in cooperation with the government’s nutrition program. They developed a collective impact to fight childhood stunting in Bangladesh.

CARE Collective Impact

Nonprofit organization CARE develops disaster response, food and nutrition, health and education for impoverished people globally. The organization’s approach is to link with partners. Together, they execute CARE’s programs as well as support promotions on a national scale. In Bangladesh, CARE has developed the Nutrition at the Center program. It follows the Second National Plan of Action for Nutrition. According to a CARE survey, the program has helped reduce stunting in children less than 2-years-old from 47% to 33%.


Additionally, UNICEF is a nonprofit organization that supports children globally through partnerships. The organization is working in cooperation with the Bangladesh government’s Second National Plan of Action for Nutrition in making a collective impact to fight childhood stunting in Bangladesh. UNICEF has developed research-based programs that reduce stunting within the first 1,000 days of life. This includes counseling on the proper nutrition of pregnant mothers to reduce underweight babies and improve childhood feeding. This highlights the diversity of foods, improves vitamin use and treats infection and severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

The World Bank

Furthermore, the World Bank is a nonprofit organization that invests knowledge and money in developing countries. The organization views investing in Bangladesh’s nutrition as an investment in the future socioeconomic potential of the children. Among children under 5, about 5.5 million are stunted, and out of that number, poorer children bear a disproportionate burden of stunted growth. The World Bank’s plan includes supporting childhood nutrition as well as a conditional cash transfer for 600,000 families.

Bangladesh has made considerable progress but continues to struggle with childhood nutrition. Children born stunted will potentially experience later puberty development and cognitive impairment. This can lead to poor school and later work performance. Stunted women often end up having stunted children, continuing the cycle. Therefore, programs that invest in proper nutrition are vital. The Bangladesh government’s nutrition program seeks to reduce childhood stunting by 25% by 2025. With the collective impact of fighting childhood stunting by nonprofit organizations like CARE, UNICEF and the World Bank, this goal can potentially become a reality.

Joseph Maria
Photo: Flickr

Myanmar's Most Vulnerable PopulationsThe country of Myanmar is facing many difficulties regarding the spread and effects of COVID-19. With a tattered healthcare system, warring states, a fragile economy and thousands of people displaced, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations are experiencing several risks. Displaced people living in detention camps, Rohingya Muslims and the poor disproportionately face the negative effects of COVID-19 in culmination with a declining economy.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Myanmar’s health system as one of the worst in the world. According to official data, about 40% of Myanmar’s population live below or close to the poverty line.

There is a limited number of doctors, with 6.1 doctors per 10,000 people. Additionally, there are as few as one doctor per 83,000 people in conflict-affected areas according to Human Rights Watch.

Furthermore, there is little healthcare or medical facilities in rural areas, where most of Myanmar’s population lives. That makes it extremely difficult for people to seek medical assistance and testing for COVID-19, and estimate the number of coronavirus cases.

Ethnic Conflict

In addition to a poor healthcare system, Myanmar is also riddled with the conflict between the government and Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Fighting in areas such as the Rakhine state and Chin state prevents any possible COVID-19 relief and government aid.

Additionally, the government has put mobile internet restrictions in place in response to the armed conflicts. Lack of accessible internet limits information about the virus along with access to medical services, preventing people from knowing the government’s response to COVID-19 and how they can protect themselves.

The Vulnerable

It is at a time like this that minorities and threatened groups are the most vulnerable. Many aid workers fear that on top of inadequate resources and poor living conditions, the virus could exacerbate hostile emotions towards minorities and targeted groups in Myanmar.

Groups such as displaced persons and the Rohingya Muslims face difficult obstacles in receiving medical treatment or preventative measures against the COVID-19 virus.

Displaced People

According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 350,000 displaced people in Myanmar, and 130,000 people living in detention camps in the Rakhine state. Military conflict between the government and ethnic armed groups mainly caused these people’s displacement. Living conditions are dismal in these camps, with little to no resources for treating or preventing COVID-19. There is limited access to clean water, toilets and medical services. Diseases are common and according to a Human Rights Report, “in such camps, one toilet is shared by as many as 40 people, [and] one water access point by as many as 600.”

The Rohingya Muslims

The Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority group, is one of Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations. They have been living in detention camps after experiencing persecution in Myanmar. The Myanmar government has restricted their freedom of movement, and the Rohingya Muslims live in squalid camp conditions. There are only two health centers available, both unequipped to test and treat COVID-19.

Living conditions are extremely cramped. According to a Forbes article, one of the refugee camps, Kutupalong, houses “almost 860,000 refugees. They are more densely populated than New York, with more than 100,000 people living in each square mile.” With people living in such close proximity to one another, the spread of COVID-19 through the Rohingya Muslims is inevitable.

Economic Effects on the Poor

COVID-19 also negatively impacts Myanmar’s economy. As a consequence, it has exacerbated poverty and lowered living conditions. According to the International Growth Centre and World Bank Open Data, Myanmar had the lowest per capita GDP in Southeast Asia in 2018.

Furthermore, because Myanmar’s economy largely relies on international investment and exported goods such as garment products, COVID-19’s disruption on the world economy has caused Myanmar to further suffer.

Especially affected by the economic decline are poor workers and households. Groups such as “street and mobile vendors and various day-rate workers in urban areas, and the landless and day-rate workers in rural areas” experience adverse effects as income, food security and employment decline, according to the International Growth Centre.

In the face of the COVID-19 virus, Myanmar suffers many challenges that make preventing and treating the virus extremely difficult. In all of this, Myanmar’s most vulnerable populations – the displaced, the Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar’s poor – are at the greatest disadvantage. Although there have been efforts by the government to provide financial aid for preventative measures and help from humanitarian organizations, it is not enough. These vulnerable groups are still hugely at risk from COVID-19.

Silvia Huang
Photo: Flickr