Thinley Namgay

Representatives from 11 countries took part in the virtual regional workshop on Covid-19 management organised by India on February 18.

The workshop is in line with keeping the spirit of cooperation envisaged by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, during the SAARC leaders’ conference last year on March 20.

The workshop was one of the several initiatives executed by India to jointly combat the Covid-19 pandemic, such as the SAARC Covid-19 emergency fund, Covid-19 information exchange portal, e-ITEC training programmes, training programmes on clinical trials, a customised training programme on the administrative and operational aspects of a safe and effective vaccine-roll out.

Participants discussed Covid-19 experiences, good practices and the way forward.  The officiating health secretary, Pemba Wangchuk, led the Bhutanese delegation.

Pemba Wangchuk thanked India for donating the Covid-19 vaccine.  “There was overwhelming gratitude from Bhutanese people for the Prime Minister and the people of India for the support.”

The benevolent leadership of His Majesty the King and government, preparedness and response plan, public solidarity, timely lockdown, quarantine management, among others, are some of the best practices in Bhutan, according to Pemba Wangchuk.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed greater regional cooperation.  He suggested creating a special VISA scheme for doctors and nurses to travel quickly within the region during health emergencies, and coordination among civil aviation ministries for a regional air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies.

Prime Minister Modi also suggested a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data about the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines among the regional populations, creating a regional network for promoting technology-assisted epidemiology for preventing future pandemics and knowledge-sharing of successful public health policies and schemes.

Narendra Modi said: “When Covid-19 hit the world last year, many experts voiced special concern about our densely populated region, but from the very beginning, we all made this challenge with a coordinated response. In March last year, we were the first to recognise the threat and commit to fighting it together.  Many other regions and groups followed our early example.”

Considering the two doses of vaccine for each person, Bhutan needs 1.1 million doses for 522,558 people.

“Through our openness and determination, we’ve managed to achieve one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. Today, the hopes of our region and the world are focussed on the rapid deployment of vaccine. In this too, we must maintain the same cooperative and collaborative spirit,” said Narendra Modi.

Mauritius, Seychelles and Myanmar joined the workshop in addition to the SAARC member countries.