SAARC nations vow to jointly fight COVID-19, India proposes online platform

Top health professionals and officials from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries held a video conference late Thursday night where India proposed launching an electronic platform to share information on the pandemic

Kavita Bajeli-Datt Mar 27, 2020
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Top health professionals and officials from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries held a video conference late Thursday night where India proposed launching an electronic platform to share information on the pandemic.

Member countries discussed their experience of new coronavirus outbreak, and how to carry forward collaboration in the joint fight against COVID-19 at the ground level, an official statement issued on Friday by India’s Ministry of External Affairs said.

The SAARC is a regional grouping comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka comprising an estimated population of 1.9 billion - or a quarter of the global population,  making it the most populous and densely populated region of the world.

A wide range of issues relating to COVID-19 were discussed extensively with active and purposeful participation of all sides.

“India proposed a shared electronic platform for all SAARC nations… It was informed that considerable work has already gone into the creation of the platform,” the statement said.

The electronic platform at the regional level will enable exchanging information, knowledge, expertise and best practices for jointly combating the coronavirus epidemic, the statement added.

It was informed that considerable work has already gone into the creation of the platform, which could also serve as a multipurpose vehicle to further discuss and conduct activities such as online training for emergency response personnel, the MEA said.

“All SAARC countries shared their own experiences of dealing with the COVID-19 challenges in their respective settings. All countries also highlighted their specific vulnerabilities, capacities, best practices, gaps in resources and logistics, private sector participation as well as levels of preparedness,” it added.

SAARC health officials identified community engagement and participation as “an important element in any anti-COVID-19 strategy to augment the large-scale emergency measures undertaken by the governments in South Asia.

India also proposed that until the e-platform is launched, a network of experts representing the health services of all SAARC countries “may be set up on email/WhatsApp to enable the exchange of all relevant information between the SAARC countries on a real-time basis”.

At an India-initiated video conference of SAARC leaders on March 15, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had suggested that health professionals of the member nations could come together to jointly fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Modi in the video conference had strongly pitched for a regional approach to deal with the pandemic and had proposed creating a Covid-19 emergency fund. India pledged $10 million toward the Covid-19 emergency fund, which Modi said, could be used by the member countries to fight the pandemic.

All the SAARC member nations are reeling under the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the South Asian nations have announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the pandemic. The virus has spread to at least 176 countries and regions, killing over 24,100 people and infecting 537,000.

(The writer specialises in health, education and social issues)

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