The COVID-19 crisis has triggered a precarious scenario for the global community. Non-Aligned Movement has called for cooperation in the health sector to tackle this crisis. The Member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that comprise comprises of over 21% of the world’s population and are also a part of the Non-Aligned Movement have also remained vulnerable to COVID-19. SAARC is a regional grouping of eight South Asian countries i.e. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Among the SAARC Member States, India has led the way in the multilateral organisation’ effort to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.
It was on the initiative of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that a video conference of SAARC leaders on March 15 2020. Joining the Indian Prime Minister at this videoconference were H. E. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; H. E. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; H. E. Dr.Lotay Tshering, Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Bhutan; H. E. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of the Republic of India; H. E. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, President of the Republic of Maldives; Rt. Hon. KP Sharma Oli, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal; H. E. Dr. Zafar Mirza, State Minister for Health of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; and H. E. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. H. E. Mr. EsalaRuwan Weerakoon, Secretary General of SAARC, attended the Conference. The Conference was also attended by Mr. P. K. Taneja, Director, SAARC Disaster Management Centre (Interim Unit).
Indian PM Modi stressed on the importance of cooperation among the SAARC nations to combat the COVID-19 crisis. He remarked: “It is clear that we have to work together. We can respond best by – Coming together not growing apart; Collaboration not Confusion; Preparation not Panic”. Thus, India underscored, that SAARC region could set an example to the world, for regional coordination to address complex cross-border challenges.
During the video conference, PM Modi suggested the establishment of a SAARC Emergency Response Fund for COVID-19, with an initial US $ 10 million contribution from India and asked SAARC countries to use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions and medical requirements. SAARC readily welcomed this proposal. The SAARC Development Fund (SDF) has allocated US$ 5 million for COVID-19 projects in the SAARC Member States under its Social Window to support Member States in responding to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.“The objective of the US$ 5 million allocation is to provide fund support to the Member States in their efforts and to protect the people of the SAARC Member States by mitigating the financial losses and severe socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CEO of SDF Dr Sunil Motiwal.
During the video conference of SAARC leaders, India also offered to deploy its specially-constituted Rapid Response Teams of medical and other professionals, and testing equipment, to any SAARC partner country. Support was also offered for capacity-building including through online training modules, establishment of a repository of best practices of dealing with COVID-19 at SAARC Disaster Management Centre, and a website with information in each of the SAARC languages. India also offered to share its software for Integrated Health Information for Disease Surveillance. Indian PM called for evolving a common SAARC Pandemic Protocols which can be applied on SAARC borders as well as within the borders of the Member States in a situation of crisis.
India has also been extending bilateral cooperation to SAARC Member States. Subsequent to the March 15 video conferencing initiated by Prime Minister Modi, India has provided two rounds of large medical supplies to Bangladesh through the COVID-19 emergency fund. Multiple sessions of capacity building for medical professionals designed by Indian doctors have also been held over this period.
Earlier, India gifted head covers and masks for medical professionals. India has gifted a 10-tonne consignment of essential lifesaving medicines to Sri Lanka and sent similar supply to Maldives to help fight the COVID crisis.