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March 16, 2020

SAARC leaders’ conference on COVID-19: Pakistan proposes creation of working group for data exchange

National

March 16, 2020

Islamabad: The SAARC Secretariat is best placed to coordinate regional endeavours for the control of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). As such, it should be mandated to establish a Working Group of respective national authorities for health information and data exchange as well as coordination for responses in real-time.

The PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza floated this recommendation, among several others, during his video-link address to participants of the ‘Conference of SAARC Leaders on Combatting COVID-19: Setting an Example for the World.’

Dr. Zafar also reiterated Pakistan’s earlier proposal of hosting the SAARC Health Ministers Conference at an appropriate time. He recommended that the SAARC Secretariat reach out on behalf of SAARC countries to specialized development partners including WHO for mobilization, technical advice, and resources. The creation of a regional mechanism was also proposed to share disease surveillance data about prevalence and incidence of communicable diseases and public health events of regional significance. “We should follow WHO guidelines and implement exit health screening for travellers in the region to avoid cross-border spread. We also need to learn from and disseminate the experience of SAARC Observer States, particularly China, that is effectively addressing the challenge and can share valuable insights,” Dr. Zafar suggested.

Terming the COVIS -19 pandemic is one of the most serious global health emergencies witnessed in the last 100 years, Dr. Zafar pointed out that with over 155,000 infections, 5,833 deaths and 138 countries involved, no region can afford to be unresponsive, least of all SAARC, which is home to one-fifth of humanity, several of the world’s largest mega-cities, and many of the most densely populated regions.

“Pakistan shares the common concern over the potential of COVID-19 affecting South Asia. All our countries now have confirmed cases. Mercifully, the SAARC region has so far evaded the worst ravages but given the experiences of other countries in other continents, there is absolutely no room for any complacency. While hoping for the best, we have to prepare for the worst,” the SAPM stated, advising nations to follow WHO’s four-pronged advice which calls for efforts to (a) prevent, b) detect, c) respond, d) conduct research and innovation along the way.

Dr. Zafar said, Pakistan has been involved in containment efforts right from the outset of the outbreak. “We have been matching our measures to real-time threat assessments. While we have stressed the need for caution, we have strongly advised against panic. A calm, calculated, and deliberate response is the need for the hour,” he stated, and moved on to share some of the key decisions that have been in the wake of the National Security Committee’s recent meeting.

Dr. Zafar expressed fear that if the health systems, disease surveillance systems, and preventive measures taken by countries in the region are unable to cope, the human and economic costs alone can be staggering. “The cumulative impact will dampen region wide growth prospects and negatively affect the national development agendas. At our current stages of development, the SAARC region can ill-afford such a setback. The unprecedented challenge therefore warrants an unprecedented response,” he remarked.

Dr. Zafar added that the challenge in hand demands sagacity, vision and synergy of action. “The strength and resilience of the people of South Asia is known, we have no doubt that we will overcome these challenges,” he concluded.