SAARC countries to strengthen health cooperation

The fifth annual meeting of health ministers of member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at New Delhi, on 8 April 2015, resolved to strengthen health cooperation, particularly on areas that need coordinated action, among members.

The health ministers' meeting follows the meetings of the SAARC technical committee on health and population activities, the SAARC Expert Group on HIV/AIDS and of senior health officials on 6-7 April.

The health ministers resolved to make SAARC region polio-free even as India offered support for technical missions from other SAARC countries for this purpose.

SAARC countries will strengthen cooperation to promote availability and effective coverage of affordable vaccines, including pentavalent vaccine, and also strengthen its response.

The ministers committed themselves to set up a SAARC Supra National Reference Laboratory for TB and HIV/AIDS. They also agreed to come together to negotiate better prices for TB drugs and diagnostics to make these more affordable and accessible.

The meeting called upon member states to maintain the momentum of actions under the regional strategy on HIV/AIDS, to share experience and expertise in the areas of surveillance, existing and new strategies to prevent the spread of HIV, and in rapid scale up of affordable treatment to achieve the 90-90-90 HIV treatment target 2020, to rapidly reduce new HIV infection and AIDS related deaths, including from tuberculosis, with a view to ending AIDS by 2030.

The counties of the SAARC region will set up expert groups on vector-borne diseases and hold annual meetings on non-communicable diseases. Besides, the ministers resolved to include mental health care in universal healthcare programmes.

The countries resolved to promote access to medicines, including through the use of flexibilities under TRIPS agreement (World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) and to promote these in the bilateral and regional trade agreements in order to protect public health interest.

They also agreed to pursue mutual cooperation among the professional bodies regulating medicine, nursing and allied health on training of human resources.

Most importantly, SAARC countries will cooperate in the promotion of traditional systems of medicine.

SAARC member states account for nearly a quarter of the world population and face similar or even same challenges in the field of public health, prevention of diseases and providing better quality of life for the citizens.

The meeting adopted a `Delhi Declaration on Public Health Challenges', which emphasises on achieving universal health coverage, improving health regulatory systems, and preparedness for emerging and reemerging diseases and the challenges posed by antimicrobial resistance and non-communicable diseases,

''Cognizant of the fact that infectious diseases and pathogens do not recognise political and geographical boundaries, global integration, trade, travel and commerce make all countries vulnerable to threat of outbreaks which may emerge from any part of the globe,'' the declaration noted, adding that health systems and response mechanisms require further strengthening in each country, especially in countries with less financial and technical resources.

The meeting acknowledged the value and importance of traditional medicines for effective healing of mind and body by making them a holistic part of our healthcare as well as the need of sharing knowledge, experience and the regulatory mechanisms thereon of respective member states for securing public health needs.

SAARC will cooperate in improving the standards, clarification and regulatory mechanisms for drugs and pharmaceuticals with a view to promote availability of quality, safe, efficacious and affordable medicines in all member states.

The meeting also reaffirmed the commitment of SAARC member countries to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

India's healthcare portal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated India's Healthcare Portal at the 'SAAARC Trade Mart' on the occasion of the inauguration of a three-day Global Exhibition on Services, at ITPO, Pragati Maidan.

The healthcare portal was developed by the department of commerce and the Services Export Promotion Council (SEPC). The portal is the long awaited fulfilment of the need to have an authentic and dynamic information source which can effectively be used by any treatment seeker/potential medical tourist from across the globe.

The portal is a comprehensive one-point information site and covers hospital-related and travel-related information on India. At present, it covers 124 accredited medical facilities, which include 93 medical centres, 30 ayurveda and wellness centres and one special category centre. 74 facilities are located in Tier I cites and the rest are in Tier II cities.