2019 saw increased activity in health tech in Southeast Asia, with over $266 million USD funnelled into building the industry, as it is seen to be the new tech frontier. Southeast Asia is giving China a run for its money, as investment dropped 37% in the Middle Kingdom. What does this influx of funding into this technology mean for Southeast Asia and the rest of the world?

Why will health tech change Southeast Asia?

Many countries in Southeast Asia are struggling to provide quality health care, due to population rises and a lack of resources, particularly in remote areas. Add to this, the difficulty of controlling infectious diseases and the increase in non-communicable diseases (non-transferable illnesses such as cancer, strokes and heart disease) and it puts enormous pressure on communities. This is especially true when they don’t have the financial stability to improve the situation, which often leads to poverty. With most of the investment funds going into solutions for patients and the management of their health, population health management, medical education and diagnostics, this will increase the quantity and quality of medical resources available online.  Expanding the reach into more remote areas, a larger population will have access to more health services without the inhibiting cost they usually face. This increased investment should bring further equality of health to more people and will help to meet the promise of the World Health Organisation’s 13th General Program of Work (GPW), which aims to “promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable”. 

open palm with syringe floating above

Who is making investments in health tech?

Although investment in China has decreased, Chinese investors are the most prominent in health tech in Southeast Asia. The $250 million USD promised by Tencent, will see 440,000 doctors connected to ten million patients online, bringing health resources to those who can’t afford to get to the doctors or are too sick to travel, allowing them to tap into online consulting. There are several accelerator programs, encouraging the development of technology to solve the health issues that Southeast Asia is currently facing. Notably, two Australian companies are leading the accelerator activity; BlueChilli healthtech accelerator offers funding to startups who are ready to “solve society’s greatest challenges with technology”. Their investment will help support the launch of 240 startups; while ANDHealth has launched its “Bright Ideate and Bright Innovate” programs, which aids developers to commercialise their digital health businesses. Burning Rock Bio, another China-based organisation, has dedicated $123 million USD to develop their genetic testing product in Indonesia. It aims to detect cancer in its early stages, which will not only save lives but will save money on treatments which will no longer be required. Halodoc recently raised a further $65 million USD in capital to continue to develop their app, which brings patients closer to medical knowledge and practice, with lower costs and in a more timely manner.  These are just some of the life-changing health tech investments destined to bring more vitality to the people of Southeast Asia.

What impact will health tech investment have on Southeast Asia?

Due to a lack of resources across multiple countries in the ASEAN region, poverty levels are high, particularly in remote communities. In these areas, it is often too expensive and too difficult to reach medical centres and practitioners physically. With an investment in technology to enhance health, this opens up opportunities for those who would not typically have had access to medical assistance. They will now be able to receive an online diagnosis and access digital resources to address their needs. 

A critical piece of the health tech puzzle is the expansion of the internet into more remote areas, and the good news is that there are multiple investments to address this critical challenge. The Asian Development Bank has invested $50 million USD into the Kacific1 Satellite, launched from Cape Canaveral in 2019, and promises to provide distributed internet access across the Asia and Pacific region for its fifteen-year orbit. In Thailand, the Universal-service-obligation (USO) claims broadband will be available in all remote communities, ensuring that everyone in the country has increased access to the internet. Increased access will ensure that these new health tech investments penetrate more communities to extend life expectancy and decrease poverty.  

These technologies also provide more employment opportunities for both community collaborators and medical professionals, who are now able to work online. The Universal Health Coverage (UHC), aims to expand access to health resources to more people on the planet, and in the Philippines and Cambodia, there are programs in place which do precisely that. As a part of the program, women in remote areas are empowered to be ‘access managers’, where they, along with other women in their community, are dedicated to helping their fellow townsfolk access health technology. 

With monumental investment in health tech in Southeast Asia in 2019, the region is going from strength to strength. With more health and wellbeing resources landing in the homes of those who need it most, considerable financial contributions and additional employment opportunities, it hopes to change the nation.