Paths to Advancing Health Equity in the Greater Mekong Subregion

Three Senior EI Fellows, Chhorvann Chhea (2016), Somporn Pengkam (2017), and Luong The Huy (2017), recently shared their insights on the complexity of advancing health equity in a panel discussion moderated by EI Program Director Piya Hanvoravongchai, at the 11th International Conference on Public Health among Greater Mekong Subregion Countries, hosted in Vientiane, Laos, 17-19 October. This annual conference provides an opportunity for researchers, educators, policymakers, and activists to share knowledge and experience in preventive public health among the diverse societies of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) countries. The focus this year was on: Improving Health Equity among great Mekong Subregion Countries: A Public Health Challenge.

Drawing from their diverse collective experience ranging from public policy to on the ground implementation, in Thailand, Cambodia, and Viet Nam, the three senior EI Fellows captured the audience attention in this plenary session with their own work in the GMS, emphasizing how health outcomes are shaped as much by social determinants as understanding of disease and treatment. Chhorvann Chhea, an epidemiologist who directs Cambodia’s National Institute of Public Health described the gaps that can emerge between a policy goal of equitable access to health services and the implementation of policies in communities shaped by distinct social, cultural, religious, economic, and other factors. Somporn Pengkam, a Thai health advocate, said that medical practitioners often lack training in public health issues: siloed education systems may leave professionals unprepared for the cross-cutting nature of problems that affect health, the environment, and livelihoods. Luong The Huy spoke about how discrimination can limit access to healthcare for the LGBTI community in Viet Nam, and that resistance from parents, teachers, and other community members can impede sex education efforts.

The Equity Initiative (CMB Foundation) was one of the sponsors of the Conference. We are thankful to the University of Health Sciences, Lao PDR and other co-hosts including  the GMS Public Health Network for the opportunity to work together to advance health equity in the GMS region.