Najibullah Habib | Public Health, International Relations, and Public Policy

On December 22, 2022, the Peking University Global Health and Development Forum 2022 was held with the main theme of Digital Transformation and Development Divides. Co-organized by the Beijing Forum, Asian Development Bank and PKU Institute for Global Health and Development, this Forum brought together world leading scholars, policy researchers and industry leaders from both China and international communities to share their insights and recommendations on the thematic topics, attracted over 10 thousands online viewers participated in the event. Najibullah Habib, Senior Health Specialist of East Asia Department of the Asian Development Bank delivered a keynote speech at the session of Global Health and Diplomacy.


Very happy to be here. Greetings from the island of Palau in the Philippines. So I hope you can hear me and see me. First, I’d like to thank Peking University Global Health and Development Institute for inviting me. I would like to direct my talk to the points mentioned today by Mr. Han at the beginning of our meeting, the points alluded to by our Asian Development Bank Director General, Ms. Teresa Kho, and also the points just mentioned by Mr. George Gao, Mr. Orlins and Mr. Chatterjee on how we can cooperate and collaborate in a better way. I think this is the main topic of the meeting. So when we talk about global health diplomacy, which is the kind of overarching topic of today. I think we can consider it an interdisciplinary field. Today, we talked about healthcare, but we also talked about innovations in artificial intelligence, organizational theory, the private sector, and many other fields.

Health outcomes as a regional public good

So I think this point serves as a meeting point for public health, international relations, and public policy to achieve global health outcomes. I think COVID-19 has demonstrated the value of this. I think there’s no need to explain too much. Asian Development Bank really considers health outcomes as a regional public good. Regional public good means that it’s beneficial for everybody, even across borders. And essentially, this is a good that everyone will benefit from and hopefully invest in. Also, health can serve as a point of regional cooperation and integration. I will talk about how this can be done, at least through the mechanisms that ADB has led.

Public health’s value has great spillover effects

Public health’s value as a regional good has great spillover effects in trade, tourism, and transport. I think this has been obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. So let us really consider that when you invest in health and when you invest in the prevention of these types of diseases, I think there are a lot of positive effects in trade, tourism and transport. Also, public health crises don’t just consider infectious diseases. They also consider the possible crisis in climate health-related changes, disasters, and other points. We’re not only just talking about infectious diseases, but we’re also talking about potential benefits in other crises as well.

Aligned with the Healthy China 2030 plan

This is just to mention that the initiatives we are talking about today are fully aligned with the Healthy China 2030 plan. The healthy China 2030 reform currently happening in China puts health as a precondition for all economic and social development. I think this was mentioned by Mr. Chatterjee as well as one of the main pillars that the development agencies, including ADB and the UN, are aiming towards. Also, it’s great that there’s a new Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control established in many other countries. Innovations led by the COVID-19 situation have driven this establishment of new ways of coordinating and safeguarding, and promoting health. I think the unique role of China, for example, Peking University is a great example of information exchange and lessons learned. I think forums such as this one is great and basically can assist in really projecting the lessons learned and the benefits of health, not just in China, within China, but also outside.

Elderly care services

I think this is great. I also would like to mention that one of the key issues facing not just China but many countries across Asia is elderly care services. Elderly care services through the establishment of urban and rural communities in terms of best practices, which can be evolved through training across borders. Training and elderly care services across borders and lessons learned from Japan, Australia, the US, Canada, and others can assist in this information exchange. So I think this is part of global health diplomacy.

China and health diplomacy

Also to mention, when we talk about global health diplomacy, China is really just an example, it has provided a great amount of assistance in the region. PRC is the biggest manufacturer of surgical masks and has become a donor of masks globally. China really has already provided excellent mass diplomacy already. In terms of vaccines, I mean we are talking about the surge in the Covid pandemic. We have to remember that the big vaccines that China also donated to a large degree in many countries around the region played a significant role in immunizing the world against COVID-19. So this is great. 96 countries benefited from the donated vaccines.

How can we implement global health diplomacy

How can we actually implement this global health diplomacy? In ADB, we have several examples of regional or sub-regional organizations that originally aimed to enhance regional cooperation, integration, and economic cooperation but also have a great role in health. China has played a great role in the health of these organizations. The first one is the Greater Mekong Sub-Region program or GMS. This includes Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, and because of the southern borders of Yunnan Province and Guangxi Province, these areas. It’s been a great mechanism for information exchange, and training, for regional investment projects that ADB has done. Investment, what we mean is loans, actually not just grants for the benefit of all countries as a regional public good. This is shown in the GM’s health cooperation strategy that these countries have adopted. They have targets in the meeting and collaborative activities outlined in this cooperation strategy.

So this is an example. Another example, but maybe in another part, is the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program consists of 11 countries, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries also have a lot of things going on in common, but also have a lot of potential for economic cooperation, the social sectors, health particularly, and even things like education, for example, healthcare workers, standardization of qualifications for healthcare, and many other areas. I think these bodies and also many other bodies that exist, which are many. Asia, of course, could be one, and many others can serve as platforms for global health diplomacy, including China and many other countries. They cannot only invest in health. Remember, we think that it’s an intersectoral approach. We can also include things related to the environment. And for example, food safety and food security. Antimicrobial resistance, for example, is a key issue affecting both humans and animals regarding safety and security for a good food supply.

Good principles for collaboration and cooperation across borders

So these things are really right to be worked intersectionally with these types of organizations. So this is just an example. When we go on to my last slide, I think this is just a recommendation or some views of what we think could be some good principles for collaboration and cooperation happening across borders. First, we should all agree, and I think we all do, that we are only as strong as the weakest link. We are as strong as the weakest link. So we need to help everybody achieve the highest level of health we can. That means that we should possibly promote China’s role and other countries’ roles also in leadership in regional health security programs, health programs that cross borders, and disease prevention programs as well as related to. For example, elderly care and others.

These are great examples of possible regional cooperation and health programs that will have great benefits. I’ve already mentioned multi-sector approaches related to climate change. I think this is going to be very important in the future, and I think the health sector, at least in ADB, but in many other agencies, I know the World Bank and OECD, others are doing it as well, to really see how we can approach climate change through a human health lens. And this is very important. Mobile populations, migrant populations, and border communities are quite at risk, and they also are maybe at the forefront of the spread of certain infectious diseases, for example. So I think we should really try to look particularly at the health of migrants, mobile populations and border communities through any means possible. For example, these populations were noted as one of the higher risk groups for Covid. And in many countries, we try to focus on these populations to ensure that Covid does not spread for example.

I think we can standardize and build the capacity of the public health workforce in the region. I know, for example, in Guangxi Province, so we have a great example through an ADB project that’s been recently approved. That Guangxi province is actually assisting in training public health workers in the GMS and Vietnam and Lao specifically. This is great. We can have more capacity building and training, especially since we have some good lessons learned in China. I think this will be great. This will be a great vehicle for global health diplomacy and not just one way, you also learn from your student. The teachers always learn something from their students as well. So there can be great exchange in that way. Then, of course, their alignment with international frameworks and systems. The World Health Organization International Health Regulations, for example, is one, and there are many, many others of course.

If we can all agree on how to approach these great huge issues that, for example, happened in Covid, but as mentioned may likely be mentioned by Dr. Gao, might happen again. If this is quite a big risk, these things will happen again. This is the best way forward, we think. So I think I’ll stop there. Thank you very much, everyone for listening to me. And I hope we can have a great forum today and wish you the best. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Philippines. Thank you.