The Rise of Consumer Health in Shaping Southeast Asia Treatment Accessibility  

The Perfect Storm: Challenges Driving Consumer Health Demand in APAC

With rapid industrialization, urbanization, burgeoning middle class, and a combined population exceeding 691 million people, Southeast Asia (SEA) holds significant potential in the coming decade[1]. Despite being characterized by accelerated economic growth, the region has been grappling with daunting demographic and healthcare challenges. A notable trend is the aging population, attributed to declining birth rates and increased life expectancy due to greater healthcare innovations. In 2019, the proportion of individuals aged 65 or above in the region exceeded 7%, surpassing the threshold for classification as an “aging society.” By 2043, this ratio is expected to escalate to 14%, transitioning the region into the “aged” category[2].

Amidst this evolving demographic, the proliferation of smartphones, wearable health monitoring devices, telemedicine, and other health-tech applications driven by today’s digital age has transformed the way consumers engage with healthcare. This has given rise to an increasingly informed patient population who are constantly looking for ways to take their health into their own hands and on the alert for innovative self-management solutions.

Against this backdrop, we are seeing a steadily rising sector in the healthcare industry that has been gaining momentum – Consumer Healthcare (CHC).  Offering affordable and accessible options for preventive care and symptom management, the CHC sector is designed to provide easily accessible services for consumers such as over-the-counter medications, personal care items, and supplements. Having reached a value of USD 284.16 billion in 2022, the global CHC market is projected to soar to USD 608.39 billion by 2032, growing at a promising trajectory of 7.91% CAGR[3]. From a SEA context, CHC represents a captivating prospect for mitigating its demographic hurdles while unlocking growth opportunities for healthcare enterprises. Here’s how healthcare businesses can tap into this potential and leverage CHC to improve patient outcomes.  

The Perfect Storm: Challenges Driving CHC Demand in APAC

There are two key challenges creating a surge in CHC demand, with the first being growing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the region.

NCDs are a leading cause of mortality in SEA, responsible for approximately 62% of all deaths annually, and totalling around 9 million lives lost[4]. Alarmingly, half of these deaths occur among individuals aged 30 to 69 years, highlighting the significant impact on the productive age group[5]. Among NCDs, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) claim the highest number of lives (3.9 million deaths), followed by cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes.  Moreover, rapid urbanization has led to lifestyle changes characterized by sedentary behaviour, unhealthy diets, as well as increased tobacco and alcohol consumption. Traditional diets are being replaced by high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, contributing to obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Additionally, despite efforts to curb tobacco consumption, smoking rates remain the highest (26.5%) in SEA[6]. Alcohol consumption is also increasing, particularly among young adults. Along with diagnosed cases, there is a substantial portion of the population living in rural areas of SEA with undiagnosed NCDs and who are unable to afford treatment. These factors point to a considerable unmet need for NCD-specific treatments and diagnostics to address the growing burden of these diseases in the region.

The burgeoning NCD burden in Southeast Asia highlights a critical need for accessible and affordable treatments and diagnostics. CHC products have the potential to fill this market gap, offering viable solutions to address the escalating prevalence of NCDs in the region.

Secondly, the heavy NCD burden is coupled with a critical shortage of trained healthcare professionals in the region, with insufficient doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel available to meet the healthcare needs of its population. For example, Indonesia faced a staggering deficit of 31,481 specialist doctors in 2023[7]. In the same year, the Philippines health department said that the country needed 125,890 nurses and 116,032 doctors to meet WHO standards, and it would take 25 years to close the doctor-patient demand gap[8]. As a result, patients may face long wait times for appointments, limited access to specialized care, and challenges in receiving timely medical attention. Furthermore, the shortage can lead to overburdened healthcare facilities, increased workloads for existing staff, and compromised quality of care as professionals feel burnout[9]. This exacerbates healthcare disparities and hampers efforts to ensure equitable access to healthcare.

Given SEA’s shortage of healthcare professionals, there is an urgent call for accessible and self-directed healthcare options. With the increasing demand for CHC products amidst these hurdles, the CHC sector offers a hopeful means to narrow the healthcare access divide and enable individuals to manage their health proactively.

Bridging the Gap: CHC’s Transformative Power

CHC also provides a wealth of benefits that cater to the region’s dynamic needs. One significant advantage of CHC is its appeal to the rising middle-class population in the Asia-Pacific region. By 2030, Asia Pacific’s (APAC) middle-class population is projected to grow from 1.38 billion in 2015 to 3.49 billion[10], indicating a surge in consumers with increased disposable income who prioritize personal well-being. In addition, 51% of APAC consumers are willing to pay more out of pocket for healthcare, while 50% of high-income groups are spending more on nutritional supplements[11]. This demographic shift underscores the growing demand for health-related products and services, positioning CHC as a key player in meeting evolving consumer needs.

Additionally, CHC products have the potential to overcome geographical barriers and reach underserved areas where traditional healthcare services are lacking. More than one-third – 1.6 billion – of the APAC population lack effective access to social health protection, and less than half of its workforce enjoys legal entitlement to income security in the face of illness[12]. Due to inadequate infrastructure, CHC can provide essential over-the-counter medications and healthcare essentials in remote and rural communities with limited access to clinics and hospitals. Within these communities, chain pharmacies, personal care stores, hospitals, and clinics can function as essential healthcare nodes, acting as the first point of contact for medical care and self-care. CHC products and OTC medicines, therefore, ensure that healthcare remains accessible to all.

Moreover, CHC can empower individuals to take control of their health through proactive self-care practices and readily accessible OTC solutions. By promoting preventive measures and offering easy access to healthcare products, CHC fosters a culture of health-consciousness and empowerment among consumers.

The Road Ahead: Collaboration and Strategic Partnerships

In charting the road into SEA’s CHC industry, collaboration amongst key stakeholders emerges as the cornerstone for advancing healthcare access and ensuring the seamless delivery of quality products and services to patients across the region. This includes strategic partnerships amongst healthcare providers, CHC companies, and governmental organisations.

For CHC companies looking to drive accessibility of their products, the relevant stakeholders must set up efficient distribution channels to ensure the seamless delivery of CHC solutions to underserved populations, particularly in remote and rural areas. CHC companies can do this by partnering with service providers who have a strong understanding of SEA’s market complexities, strong market expansion services, and an extensive delivery infrastructure catered to the region’s specific needs. For example, DKSH Healthcare’s capillary distribution network has a 90% penetration in CHC with over 100 years of experience in Asia, with strong reach into chain and independent pharmacies, convenience stores, supermarkets, and hypermarkets.

Additionally, navigating the intricate regulatory landscapes of SEA emerges as a pivotal challenge. Here, partnering with companies that boast extensive regulatory expertise becomes essential. Such partnerships facilitate the negotiation of diverse regulatory frameworks, ensuring compliance with stringent standards while expediting the introduction of CHC products to the market. DKSH Healthcare’s team of 90 healthcare experts provided end-to-end assistance on regulatory challenges to help businesses adhere to compliance standards, while ensuring that patient safety takes priority. Thus, collaborative efforts among stakeholders herald a promising trajectory for CHC in SEA, bolstering healthcare accessibility and efficacy across the region.

Towards a Consumer-Driven Future for Healthcare

As the region continues to navigate healthcare disparities and demographic shifts, the rise of CHC emerges as a transformative force in addressing pressing challenges. By empowering individuals to take charge of their well-being and bridging gaps in healthcare access, CHC also paves the way for a brighter, healthier future in Southeast Asia. With the support of collaborative initiatives, it’s time for CHC business and healthcare organizations to tap into CHC’s potential to revolutionize healthcare accessibility and efficacy across the region, paving the way for a consumer-driven future in healthcare.














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Varun Sethi
Varun Sethi
Dr. Varun Sethi is a noted healthcare professional grounded with more than 20 years of experience across product categories such as medical devices, diagnostics, equipment and pharmaceuticals products.
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