NEW DELHI: Seeking greater integration between South Asian and Indian Ocean Island countries following the pandemic, PM Narendra Modi Thursday proposed a special visa scheme for doctors and nurses to facilitate their quick and unhindered movement within the region during health emergencies and, second, also called for a regional air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies.
Modi was addressing a virtual workshop on Covid-19 comprising health officials from India’s South Asian neighbours, including Pakistan, and also from Indian Ocean countries in India’s extended neighbourhood Mauritius and Seychelles.
All countries including Pakistan, official sources said, supported PM’s proposals. “They proposed a structured discussion for regional cooperation on these proposals to take them forward,” said a source, adding that all participants agreed there was a need for such cooperation on regional basis for fighting such pandemics. Pakistan was represented by special assistant to PM on health issues Faisal Sultan.
Modi said it was time for the region to raise its ambitions after having achieved one of the lowest fatality rates in the world through a “spirit of collaboration”.
In his third proposal, Modi also called for creating a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data about the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines among the people of the region.
“Can we similarly create a regional network for promoting technology-driven epidemiology, for preventing future pandemics,” he asked the participating officials.
Beyond Covid-19, in what was his 5th proposal, Modi said India was also willing to share its successful public health policies and schemes. “From India, our Ayushman Bharat and Jan Arogya schemes may be useful case-studies for our friends in the region. Such collaboration can become the pathway for greater regional cooperation among us in other areas too,” he said.
Except for Pakistan, which hasn’t sought assistance from India, the government has so far gifted Covid-19 vaccines to each of the countries that participated in the meeting.
The PM recalled that when Covid-19 hit the world last year, many experts had voiced special concern about the densely populated region, adding that the challenge had been met with a coordinated response as the region saw one of the lowest fatality rates in the world.
“In March last year, we were the first to come together for recognizing the threat and committing to fight it together. Many other regions and groups followed our early example. We created the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to meet the immediate costs of fighting the pandemic. We shared our resources – medicines, PPE, and testing equipment,” said Modi, who had chaired a meeting of Saarc leaders on Covid preparedness in March last year.
The PM called for the same cooperative and collaborative spirit on the issue of vaccines. India has so far gifted 2 million vaccine doses to Bangladesh, 1.7 million to Myanmar, 1 million to Nepal, 1 lakh to Mauritius, 50000 to Seychelles, 5 lakh to Sri Lanka, 1.5 lakh to Bhutan and 1 lakh to Maldives.