Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday proposed to host a conference of the SAARC health ministers' to discuss a joint strategy to tackle the deadly coronavirus that has killed nearly 15,000 people worldwide.
He made the proposal during a telephone conversation with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen.
The Foreign Office said that the two ministers discussed the challenges faced by regional countries in the face of rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and exchanged ideas on ways to combat the threat.
Qureshi underscored that Pakistan considered the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) an important platform for regional cooperation.
"Reaffirming Pakistan's abiding commitment to the SAARC process, he reiterated Pakistan's readiness to host the SAARC Health Ministers' conference to enhance cooperation among member countries and development partners in health sector with particular focus on COVID-19," the FO said.
He also proposed that a video conference could be organized first in view of the prevailing situation.
Appreciating Pakistan's offer, Momen conveyed Bangladesh's readiness to participate in the video conference, according to FO.
Discussing the need to share resources, it was underlined that SAARC COVID-19 emergency fund should be placed under the Secretary General of SAARC and the modalities for its utilization should be finalized through consultations at the earliest.
In a video conference on forming a joint strategy to fight COVID-19 in the SAARC region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 15 proposed the emergency fund with an initial offer of USD 10 million from India and asserted that the best way to deal with the coronavirus pandemic was by coming together, and not growing apart.
Subsequently, Nepal and Afghanistan pledged USD 1 million each, Maldives committed USD 200,000, Bhutan USD 100,000 and Bangladesh pledged USD 1.5 million to the fund. Sri Lanka on Monday pledged to contribute USD 5 million to the fund.
Pakistan is now the only country left to declare its contribution to the fund.
Qureshi also suggested that the SAARC should evaluate and coordinate on the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and experts from the member countries should commence work in this regard immediately.
He underscored the need for debt restructuring by developed countries and the international financial institutions so that the available resources could be utilized to deal with the unprecedented global health emergency.
Agreeing with the proposal, Foreign Minister Momen underscored the need to raise the issue at the G-77 forum, said FO.
Qureshi also said that Iran was faced with serious challenges due to COVID-19, which were further aggravated due to the continuing economic sanctions against it.
He emphasized the need for immediate lifting of those sanctions, enabling Iranian authorities to utilize their resources for saving precious human lives.
Qureshi assured his Bangladeshi counterpart that all Bangladeshi citizens in Pakistan were being looked after by the Government of Pakistan as its own people.
The two Foreign Ministers stressed the need for joint efforts to address the situation. They agreed to work closely to realize collective endeavours for common benefit.
Founded in 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional intergovernmental organisation and geopolitical union of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
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