Public health and climate change are both great challenges for Asia. Together they create a nexus of concern that could become the next big crisis for the region. While rapid economic development has pulled hundreds of millions out of poverty and people’s health and lives are much improved, Asia is dealing with an emerging set of health problems that are worsened by the effects of climate change.
Extreme weather events and warming temperatures accelerate disease spread. Developing economies, in ASEAN and India, which already suffer from communicable or infectious diseases as well as diseases related to poor sanitation and hygiene, are particularly affected. Increased industrial activity causing air pollution and haze leading to non-communicable respiratory and cardiovascular diseases affect countries that have experienced rapid industrialization, notably China. President Xi Jinping has put health at the center of policy-making, tying it to the country’s future economic prosperity. Climate change destroys habitats of animal species and at the same time urbanization means humans are encroaching upon animal habitats, heightening pandemic risks related to animal-human cross-contamination. Moreover, densely packed populations in cities accelerate disease spread. Primary healthcare systems, already weak in many Asian countries, will come under increasing strain.
Public health should be a priority consideration for government and business alike. The actions of governments in the region are important, to set the regulatory tone. But the private sector is the nimblest actor in terms of implementation and often has resources that governments don’t, especially in poorer countries. In particular, technological innovation has the potential, if properly harnessed, to help Asia make dramatic leaps in addressing health challenges. This briefing reviews case examples of businesses that have taken action to improve public health, through investing in scientific research on vector-borne diseases and technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, making philanthropic efforts to fight disease spread and climate change, and moving to lower-carbon energy sources.
These efforts to tackle the dual challenge of public health and climate change help businesses earn a social license to operate and boost the bottom line by ensuring that countries have healthy workers and consumers to sustain growth.