Friday, November 25, 2016

Countries of the South-East Asia Region launch path-breaking initiative to guarantee high-quality medical products

In a move to guarantee access to high-quality medical products that can protect, diagnose and treat illness and disease in the WHO South-East Asia region member countries today launched a path-breaking initiative that will enhance information sharing, collaboration and convergence of regulatory practices across the Region.  
“Access to high-quality medical products is a matter of life and death for everyone," regional director for WHO South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said.
"The coming together of the region’s regulatory agencies marks a watershed moment that will ensure medical products produced and sold in the Region do exactly what they are supposed to," she said, adding that it will benefit the vulnerable in particular, who are often pushed into poverty when paying for low-quality or unsafe products. "It will also enhance our ability to effectively tackle health security threats such as antimicrobial resistance and tuberculosis, which are exacerbated by ineffective drugs that breed resistance."
The presence of poor quality medical products on the market is the result of limited regulatory capacity to enforce best practices needed to develop, produce and distribute them. While many regulatory authorities in the region lack sufficient technical capacity, staff and resources to perform effectively, even well-resourced authorities are hard-pressed to thoroughly evaluate all new products and enforce existing regulations. The new South-East Asia Regulatory Network (SEARN) aims to change that.
“The network, which connects every one of the region’s national regulatory authorities, will help harmonise existing regulations and streamline work-sharing arrangements in order to get the most out of our collective strengths,” secretary general of Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration Dr Boonchai Somboonsok said. "By collaborating and working together we can learn from one another while effectively regulating the vast number of products available in our countries.”
For the region’s smaller countries – like Bhutan and Maldives – SEARN will significantly expand the ability for national regulators to ensure medical products are safe and of adequate quality.
At the same time as protecting consumers, SEARN will have a substantial impact on how the medical product market’s supply side functions.
Dr Khetrapal Singh further emphasised how the new initiative would accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) via the attainment of universal health coverage. "By ensuring medical products are of a high quality we will expand health coverage and ensure every member of society can get the care they need,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said, adding that SEARN will strengthen health systems across South-East Asia and help fulfill each person’s right to the highest attainable standard of health."
SEARN was established as an outcome of regional meetings in 2015 and 2016. It exists on a voluntary basis and will meet annually in addition to carrying out ongoing joint activities.
The WHO South-East Asia Region is comprised of 11 countries, all of whom are now SEARN members. These countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Trade matters because people matters: UNCTAD deputy chief

Trade is benefiting more people than ever before, but the trade community must do more to protect the vulnerable and to include more people in the global trading system, UNCTAD’s deputy secretary-general Joakim Reiter said.
Talking at a commemorative event to mark the 100th session of the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Development, Reiter highlighted the fact that in 2015 trade accounted for 30 per cent of global GDP, up from 20 per cent two decades ago. "Also, five decades ago, developing and transition economies accounted for less than a quarter of global trade," he said, "Today, they account for nearly half."
“We have never traded as much as we do today,” according to him. "More than ever, our individual destinies are tied to the destiny of others.”
This trade-driven transformation has helped with a massive reduction of poverty around the world. In just 20 years, nearly one billion people have been lifted out of poverty.
Despite these achievements, however, trade – and possibly globalization – have increasingly come under fire, especially in developed countries.
To some extent, this was not a surprise. “We always knew that trade created winners and losers. But we focused more on telling the story of the winners and neglected the reality of the losers,” he added.
The international trade community must do a better job of addressing concerns about trade, including among those who have not yet benefitted.
Reiter, on the occasion, underlined that for trade to deliver the maximum benefits, it needs complementary policies such as competition policy, consumer protection, skills development, and more.
More people – especially the poorest among us – must also be given better opportunities to take part in trade, Reiter said, noting among other things the potential of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, e-commerce, and the value of ending harmful fishing subsidies.
"Trade matters, because people matter,” he stressed, adding that one should not care about trade for the sake of trade, but because it has the power to transform the lives of people and their standards of living.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

International trade creates jobs in the developing country: UNCTAD chief

UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi has defended international trade as the best means for developing countries to create jobs and tackle inequality.
Trade deals became a hot topic in the United States (US) presidential election earlier in the month with president-elect Donald Trump vowing to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership on the first day of his presidency. Earlier in 2016 the United Kingdom (UK) also voted to withdraw from the European Union (EU) on as-yet unclear trade terms.
Kituyi said that while politicians in the global north may be 'getting cold feet' on trade, poorer countries have no choice but to deepen trade relationships.
"As an ex-politician myself, I know that politicians must do a better, more honest job of discussing the costs and benefits of trade," said Kituyi, who before becoming UNCTAD secretary-general served as trade minister in Kenya. "Too often in the global north, leaders, dictated by electoral needs, talk down trade, storing up problems for the future."
"To blame trade for job losses is to use a convenient scapegoat, but it ignores both the benefits of trade and the disruptive nature of technology," he said, adding that trade does not explain the relative decline in labour productivity. Nor does it account for the erosion in social protection."
What trade does do, Kituyi said, is provide the jobs required by rising populations in developing countries. "That is why developing countries are backing new, internationally integrative projects like Africa's Continental Free Trade Area and China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative."
However, Kituyi said, changing trade patterns are disruptive. He said policymakers must address the effects of change to protect the ultimate benefits of trade.
"At the international level, trade deals need social and environmental safeguards," he said. "Competition policy and consumer protection can help to defend small businesses against the excesses of corporate power."
"The nature of trade is changing, shifting to services, to developing countries, and to more being done online, But it is always going to generate jobs. And this is an urgent priority for any sensible politician, Kituyi concluded.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Asia-Pacific countries should expand social protection: ADB

Many countries in Asia and the Pacific need to expand their social protection programs to ensure adequate coverage for most of their populations, according to two Asian Development Bank (ADB) reports released today.
The studies, 'The Social Protection Indicator (SPI): Assessing Results for Asia, and Social Protection Indicator (SPI): Assessing Results for the Pacific' incorporate data from 25 countries in Asia and 13 in the Pacific on central government support for social insurance, such as pensions and health insurance, social assistance like child welfare programmes and assistance to the elderly and labour market programmes, such as cash-for-work programmes.
“This updated, comprehensive set of indicators gives governments an effective mechanism for devising new and improved social protection programmes, which are an essential element of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and go to the heart of efforts to promote inclusive growth and reduce poverty,” said principal social development specialist with ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department Sri Wening Handayani.
The studies find that on average government expenditure on social protection programmes in Asian countries is equivalent to 3.7 per cent of GDP per capita and 1.9 per cent in the Pacific, in both cases far too low to ensure sufficient coverage for most of the population.
Social insurance continues to dominate social protection spending in Asia and the Pacific. Almost three-quarters of GDP per capita spent on social protection is allocated for social insurance. Social assistance accounts for only 0.9 per cent GDP per capita, while active labor market programs account for only 0.1 per cent GDP per capita.
For the first time, the 2016 SPI report assesses progress on social protection over time by tracking spending for 14 countries in Asia between 2004 and 2012. Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China, and Viet Nam made appreciable progress, while the low income countries, Cambodia and Nepal, made significant progress primarily through cash or in-kind transfers.
Social protection coverage levels remain weak in other countries, particularly in the Pacific, where little progress was made between 2009 and 2012 – the latest year for which data are available. Across Asia and the Pacific, national social protection systems fail to effectively reach poor and vulnerable persons, and deliver more benefits to men than women.
Social assistance in Asia-Pacific countries provides limited support to people with health problems who lack social insurance and to persons with disabilities. This highlights the importance of expanding coverage to support low-income and vulnerable groups, including the elderly and persons with disabilities.
The two reports recommend more ambitious active labour market programmes, as these tend to be small and weak in most countries, and that unemployment insurance and social assistance benefits be extended to include employment promotion measures such as vocational training and support for entrepreneurship.
Furthermore, it is important to expand the coverage of social assistance to support broader groups of the poor and vulnerable and move beyond the usual narrowly targeted programs that do not reach many people in need. The use of noncontributory cash benefits can help support vulnerable groups left out of formal social insurance schemes. The studies conclude that effective and inclusive contributory systems are crucial for building comprehensive social protection to address vulnerabilities at all stage of life.
ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, ADB in December 2016 will mark 50 years of development partnership in the region. It is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region. In 2015, ADB assistance totaled $27.2 billion, including cofinancing of $10.7 billion.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hopes and Fear in US presidential election

NEW YORK: As the Amercians are ready to vote for the 45th president on November 8, never ever in the history were they so nervous, feared and disgruntled. As the largest democracy in the world is going to vote, some however still see hope as there is not much room for a president – whoever is elected – to maneuver on his own.
The fear is also mounting as according to various polls that some 60 percent of the Americans say that they don't like either of the presidential nominees – Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican candidate Donald J Trump – as they both seem 'not real'.
According to the Watergate famed-journalist Bob Woodward, both of the nominees are not very truthful. "We don't understand why these people are there," he said, in an interaction with journalists. "American people seem not believing on either of the candidates," he added.
Trump is a real estate businessman with no prior political experience whereas Clinton has already been the Secretary of the State, which is why White House is not new to her. However both the candidates have been in news for one or the other wrong reasons. A US presidential candidate must get 270 electoral college votes – out of the total 538 – to win. Each of the 50 states have 2 electoral college making 100 apart from 435 House of Congress members adding to a total of 535, and Washington DC has 3 electoral college votes as it has no representation in the House of the Congress.
However, most of the political pundits are of the view that the history might repeat itself; one candidate will get more popular votes and the other electoral college to win as it had happened in 2000. In 2000 presidential election, George Bush had won the presidency by 271 electoral college votes, though his opponent Al Gore had the majority of the popular votes. And it took 36 days to declare the winner after the controversy.
"Everyone has gone tired and fatigued in the political system of the Washington DC," according to Colonel F William Smullen, former chief of staff to the former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and incumbent director of National Security Studies in the Syracuse University in Syracuse New York. "They are divided because majority of the voters are simply disgusted by the state of politics, which I have never seen before," he says, explaining the cause of rise in the anti government sentiments in recent times.
According to Smullen, who is also the author of the book, "Ways and Means for Managing Up," it all started in the year 2003, when the USA invaded Iraq blaming Saddam Hussein for possessing the weapons of mass destruction (WMD). "The CIA unluckily towed the wrong lead," he remembers. "The sources were not reliable but it proceeded through that moment and till today there is no compromise. We have not learnt to find a compromise."
Of the total 330 million American population, some 220 million are registered as a voters. However, there is a huge doubt that the voters' turnout will not be as it is expected. And there is also possibility that those who come out to vote will only vote for their local senator but not for the presidents.
In an interview with Syracuse New Times newspaper, John Katko, the Republican incumbent for the 24th Congressional District seat of New York, said he would not support any of the candidates. When asked about which presidential candidate does he support and why, he said, "None of the above."
"I have never endorsed Donald Trump and I've never been said I'm going to vote for him, and I'm not going to," he said, adding, "I have serious concern with his tone of rhetoric. And I've had serious concern about some of the integrity issues with Hillary Clinton. So, I'm not going to vote for either one, and I don't think I am alone."
Smullen seconds his opinion. "Most of the Americans might not turn out to vote because they are frustrated and angry," he added.
But the sun will again rise on November 9 and one between the two candidates will win. However, Smullen fears of critical situation after November 9. "If Clinton wins, there could be civilian strife and protest on streets," he said, "because the Trump and his supporters – 60 percent according to NYT/CBS News Polls – have been claiming that they will not accept the results, if he loses."
The civil strife and then the majority of Republicans in the House of Congress seem to make Clinton's tenure in White Office harder, if she wins. "The Republicans in the House of Congress have already declared that they are not going to let Clinton appoint any judges, if she wins," he added. The post of the 2 judges has been vacant in the Supreme Court, which is the new president is expected to appoint.
However, Smullen is not at all hopeless and so is Dr Jeremy Mayer, Associated Professor at the School of Policy, Government and International Affairs, George Mason University, who thinks, in the first hand, things will turn out well. "If not also, there is less room for the president to dance," Mayer said, adding that the US Federalism has made the US president less powerful. "That's why whoever wins; there is a limit to his role, which is why there is hope too."

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ADB pledges Rs 12 b for improvement of secondary education in Nepal

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved loan worth $120 million and grant of $500,000 to help improve education quality and an access to secondary education in Nepal.
Of the total loan and grant pledged, Rs 50 million will be availed as a grant, according to the ADB headquarters in Manila, Philippines. "The amount will be released to help the Ministry of Education implement the seven-year plan for School Sector Development Plan."
With the aid, around 200 model buildings capable of withstanding disasters including earthquake will be constructed in various locations across the country.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has improve access and quality of secondary
part of a multi-donor programme to provide $6.5 billion to the School Sector Development Plan (SSDP) – the government’s main education initiative for 2017 to 2023 – that includes setting up of 200 model schools with disaster risk resilient infrastructure, improved education facilities, a full complement of teachers and quality improvements to enhance student learning.
“Continued investment in education, particularly secondary education, is critical for Nepal to achieve its goal of becoming an inclusive and prosperous middle-income country by 2030,” the statement quoted director of the Human and Social Development Division in ADB’s South Asia Regional Department Sungsup Ra. "The project will support government efforts to increase the number of secondary school graduates, who will earn higher wages than non-graduates, and boost the efficiency of country’s education system.”
Although enrollment in basic education is high, few students, especially among marginalised groups such as dalits and poor girls, progress to secondary education in the country. The quality of learning is hampered by a lack of teachers and scarce opportunities for teachers’ professional development. Average achievement scores are particularly low in key subjects like math and science, and only 47 per cent of students passed the grade 10 examinations in 2015, reads the statement.
As part of the School Sector Development Plan, the ADB loan will also help boost quality education by, for example, introducing and expanding ICT in classrooms, boosting teachers’ professional development, and promoting activity-based pedagogy for math, science, and English. The model schools, meanwhile, will have a separate head teacher, a full complement of subject teachers, disaster risk-resilient infrastructure, water and sanitation facilities, a library, a science laboratory, ICT facilities, internet connectivity, and e-resources, it adds. "The $6.5 billion programme will benefit 6.3 million students, some 153,200 teachers, and over 34,000 schools."
It is envisaged that 4,500 schools will receive separate individual subject teachers for math, science, and English by 2021. Professional development courses will be provided to 13,500 teachers and activity-based math, science and English kits for grades six to eight will be made available in 3,000 schools. Model school programme will be rolled out in 200 community schools, benefiting 40,000 students with training for 2,000 teachers in new ICT and e-learning resources.
The programme will be carried out over the next five years under ADB’s results-based lending modality, which will disburse funds based on the achievement of yearly results or performance targets, according to the multilateral development partner.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Nepal slips in Doing Business ranking, still second easiest destination for business in South Asia

The business environment in Nepal has been deteriorating continuously in recent years, according to a global report.
Nepal has been ranked 107th in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017 report compared to 99th last year. "The main reasons behind the drop are a decline in Nepal’s business regulatory environment and data revisions,” the report states. "Nonetheless, Nepal has second most favourable business environment in South Asia after Bhutan (73)."
On the distance to frontier metric, Nepal’s score went down from 59.36 in Doing Business 2016 to 58.88 in Doing Business 2017, using a comparable methodology. “It indicates a widening gap between Nepal’s regulatory environment and global best practices,” the report noted.
Under the method, rankings are determined by sorting the aggregate distance to frontier scores in various topics related to conducive business environment as considered by the World Bank, each comprising several indicators, giving equal weightage to each topic.
This indicates widening gap between Nepal’s regulatory environment and global best practices.
"More specifically, Doing Business finds Nepal made dealing with construction permits more difficult by increasing the cost of obtaining a building permit in 2015-16," it added.
However, on the positive side, Nepal also made exporting and importing easier by implementing ASYCUDA World, an electronic data interchange system.
Nepal has recently made progress in institutional reforms on several fronts that will take some time to be reflected in international rankings, the global report noted.
"For example, the government has commissioned a Cloud Infrastructure, introduced Public Key Infrastructure for Digital Signature and is close to launching an online registration and approval system for Foreign Direct Investment,” says the World Bank’s country manager for Nepal Takuya Kamata. "Wider public uptake of these systems can help ensure that these positive developments are captured in future rankings,” he added.
Nepal’s drop in ranking was also partially offset by changes in methodology. Apart from the regular 11 indicators that are used to rank economies, such as starting a business, dealing with construction permits, supply of electricity, property registration, easy availability of credit, protection for minority investors, paying taxes, trade across the borders, enforcing contracts, resolving insolvency and labour market regulations, the report has for the first time included a gender dimension in three sets of indicators: ‘Starting a Business’, ‘Registering Property’ and ‘Enforcing Contracts’. The Paying Taxes indicator set has been expanded to cover post-filing processes, such as tax audits and VAT refund.
High ease of doing business ranking means the regulatory environment is more conducive for setting up and operating a local firm.
South Asian countries have improved performance in the Doing Business areas of ‘Protecting Minority Investors’ – with an average rank of 80 – and ‘Starting a Business’ with an average of 100. Except for the Maldives, no economy in the South Asia region has a minimum capital requirement for starting a business, the report stated.