Addressing a health secretary-level meet virtually with other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries on Thursday on the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for cooperation and collaborative efforts in rapid deployment of vaccines in the region and the world. He said the spirit of regional solidarity shown during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven such integration is possible.
"Hopes of our region and world are focus on rapid deployment of vaccines. In this too, we must maintain same cooperative and collaborative spirit. Over the past year, our health cooperation has achieved so much," the prime minister said in his address to the workshop on Covid-19 management with 10 neighbouring countries.
He urged greater integration among the SAARC nations, saying, "If the 21st century is to be the Asian century, it cannot be without greater integration among the countries of South Asia and Indian Ocean island countries."
Through openness and determination, Modi said, the region has managed to achieve one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. He noted that experts had voiced concern over the pandemic's dangers to the densely populated region, but it has managed one of the lowest fatality rates in the world.
The prime minister lauded the region's coordinated response, recognition of the virus' threat and commitment to fight together. Many regions and groups followed our example, he said. The hopes of the region and the world are focussed now on rapid deployment of vaccines, and they should maintain the same collaborative spirit, Modi said in his brief address.
Health cooperation in the region has already achieved so much, the prime minister said, asking if the region now can raise its ambitions further. Modi also made certain suggestions to foster the collaborative spirit to help each other.
The prime minister proposed the formulation of a special visa scheme for doctors and nurses amid the pandemic. "Can we consider creating a special visa scheme for our doctors and nurses? So that they can travel quickly within our region during health emergencies on the request of the receiving country," he said.
PM Modi also spoke about a possible agreement on starting a regional air ambulance service and creating a platform for coordinated study of COVID-19 vaccines.
"Can our civil aviation ministries coordinate a regional air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies? Can we create a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines among our population?" PM Modi asked.
India's health schemes like Ayushman Bharat, an insurance scheme for the poor, can be taken up as a case study by other countries, he said.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional intergovernmental organization that comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.