The COVID-19 pandemic will drive reforms and open investment opportunities for ASEAN’s healthcare sector, particularly in the fields of biotechnology, telehealth, pharmaceuticals, and diagnostic medicine.

According to the World Health Organization, ASEAN spends close to four percent of its GDP on healthcare, with Singapore at the top of the list with expenditure per capita at US$2,700.

  • COVID-19 will encourage reforms in ASEAN’s healthcare sector, opening new investment opportunities in the fields of biotechnology, telehealth, pharmaceuticals, and diagnostic medicine, among others. 
  • ASEAN members are slowly committing to universal healthcare systems with Indonesia having the largest free healthcare program in the world, covering some 180 million people.
  • The region already spends close to four percent of GDP on healthcare, which is expected to increase as consumers become more health-conscious. 

Increasing health coverage

ASEAN countries are slowly committing to universal healthcare systems and these national health insurance systems have become a key driver in changing the behavior of ASEAN populations towards health.

This has resulted in consumers becoming more health-conscious in addition to demanding and spending more on health services. 

Major markets, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, have succeeded in implementing their national insurance programs; Indonesia’s programs are considered the largest in the world, covering more than 180 million people. 

Virtually the whole of Thailand’s population is covered for primary and hospital care and Singapore offers the most advanced levels of healthcare for its citizens, providing specialized treatment, such as heart transplants and neurological procedures. 

Medical tourism

Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand lead the field in the medical tourism sector with the three countries having around 100 Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited healthcare centers combined. Being JCI certified is considered the gold standard for patient healthcare and safety.

Foreign patients arrive in the region annually, providing a major source of income for private hospitals, accounting for some 40 percent of revenue in the aforementioned countries.

Globally, the medical tourism industry was worth some US$28 billion, with nearly one-third of the 11 million global medical consumers travelling to Southeast Asia.


The bloc’s pharmaceutical industry is valued at just over US$25 billion, accounting for some 2.2 percent of the global market.

Generic drugs account for a large percentage of the industry’s revenue in the region. However, only a small number of manufacturers have the capabilities to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients, with the majority importing ingredients from China or India.

This will open the region for domestic players to increase collaboration with multinational life science companies to serve their local markets. Business models will become more flexible as the use of multi-channel marketing sales, such as e-commerce becomes the new norm.

Medical devices

According to BMI Research, ASEAN’s medical devices industry is expected to see generate more than US$8 billion in revenue in 2021.

In 2015, the bloc established the ASEAN Medical Device Directive (AMDD), a set of directives that aim to harmonize regulations across the region and require medical device manufacturers to register their devices in any member state where they have production. So far, only Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia have complied with the AMDD.

The opportunities in the medical devices industry vary depending on the development of each economy. Considering this, product segmentation is an important strategy to enter individual markets.

Chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease caused by sedentary lifestyles, are becoming more prominent in ASEAN. New solutions include the use of robotic surgery, 3D printing, and implantable devices in addition to other innovations for prevention, which will rapidly transform the industry.

Producers of high-end products can focus on wealthy Singapore as well as the middle-income economies of Thailand and Malaysia, whereas lower-end devices would fare more in the price-sensitive markets of Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

This article was first published by ASEAN Briefing, which is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists foreign investors throughout Asia from offices across the world, including in in ChinaHong KongVietnam, Singapore, India, and Russia. Readers may write [email protected] for more support.

About the author

ASEAN Briefing features business news, regulatory updates and extensive data on ASEAN free trade, double tax agreements and foreign direct investment laws in the region. Covering all ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam)

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