A special visa scheme for doctors and nurses and a regional air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies across South Asia and two East African island nations were among the suggestions made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a workshop on managing Covid-19 on Thursday.
Modi, in his virtual address, said that over the past year a lot had been achieved through regional health cooperation, and urged: “Can we now think of raising our ambition further?”
The Prime Minister floated the suggestion to “create a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data about the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines among our populations”.
He said, “Can we similarly create a regional network for promoting technology-assisted epidemiology, for preventing future pandemics? And, beyond Covid-19, can we also share our successful public health policies and schemes?”
The special visa scheme could enable medical professionals to travel quickly within the region during health emergencies, on the request of the receiving country, Modi said.
Besides India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Seychelles and Sri Lanka took part in the workshop.
Modi said when Covid-19 struck, experts voiced concerns about India owing to its dense population, but it met the challenge with a coordinated response. “In March last year, we were the first to come together for recognising the threat and committing to fight it together. Many other regions and groups followed our early example.”
Giving the example of the Covid emergency response fund to meet the immediate costs of fighting the pandemic, Modi said India shared its resources from medicines and PPE kits to testing equipment. “We shared the most valuable commodity — knowledge — through collaborative training of our health workers...This spirit of collaboration is a valuable takeaway from this pandemic.”
He said the region as a whole had managed to achieve one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. “The hopes of our region and the world are focused on rapid deployment of vaccines. In this, too, we must maintain the same cooperative and collaborative spirit.”
Addressing the experts and health officials of immediate and extended neighbourhood countries, Modi said that India’s Ayushman Bharat and Jan Arogya schemes could be useful case studies for “our friends in the region”.
Suggesting that such collaboration could become a pathway for greater cooperation in other areas, he added, “After all, we share so many common challenges — climate change, natural disasters, poverty, illiteracy, and social and gender imbalances... But we also share the power of centuries-old cultural and people-to-people linkages.”
He told the participating nations to focus on all that united them to overcome other challenges, too.