Economic growth in the GMS is highly vulnerable to outbreaks of emerging diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, avian influenza, and Middle East respiratory syndrome. Other communicable diseases, including drug-resistant malaria, dengue, and antimicrobial-resistant infections, also have a significant economic impact. Multiple factors play a role in spreading communicable diseases, including an increasingly mobile population, increasing trade, and intensified interaction between people and animals. Particularly at risk are the poor, ethnic groups, and those living in border and remote areas or living along economic corridors. Infections can therefore easily pass beyond borders, and a regional approach is (i) necessary, so at-risk countries can participate and work together to improve their health systems; and (ii) beneficial, since it can result in synergies arising from coordination and lessons learned from regional peers.

In recent years, the ministries of health (MOHs) in GMS countries have made progress in regional information sharing, inter-sectoral dialogue, and cross-border cooperation for communicable disease control (CDC). Cross-border collaboration between neighboring provinces across international borders (which includes joint outbreak investigation, information exchange, and patient referrals) is gaining momentum but needs to be integrated into routine CDC activities.

Health service networks within Cambodia, the Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Viet Nam (CLMV) have expanded rapidly, but marginalized, mobile, and poor people still have limited access to health services. Mobile populations, ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable groups (MEVs) and populations living in remote border areas are more likely to spread infectious diseases and tend to use health services less than the general population. Cross-border migrant workers returning home with HIV or tuberculosis infection have limited access to treatment. Disease control programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are in place but often do not reach these vulnerable groups in border areas due to staff and funding constraints. Consequently, in some countries, up to one-third of tuberculosis cases are not identified, and one-third of diagnosed tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS cases are not properly treated.

Read more: HSP Project concept