Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday suggested boosting collaboration among countries of South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, which could include special visa arrangements for medical professionals and a regional air ambulance service, to counter future pandemic-like challenges.
Given the close cooperation among countries in the region Modi suggested "creating a special visa scheme for our doctors and nurses so that they can travel quickly within our region during health emergencies on the requirement of the receiving country."Speaking at the start of a workshop organised by India among countries of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Indian Ocean Region, Modi said countries in the region had worked closely since the outbreak of the pandemic last year to restrict the spread of the disease and deaths to among the lowest in the world.
“Hopes of our region and the world are focus on rapid deployment of vaccines. In this too, we must maintain same cooperative and collaborative spirit. Over the past year, our health cooperation has achieved so much,” PM Modi said as he addressed workshop on ‘Covid-19 Management: Experience, Good Practices and Way Forward’.
In the deployment of vaccines too, countries in the region should similarly work together, the Indian Prime Minister said.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Seychelles participated in the workshop.
“Can our civil aviation ministries coordinate a regional air ambulance agreement for medial contingencies?" the Prime Minister said.
He also floated the idea of creating a regional platform for collating, compiling and studying data about the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines among the people of these countries. A regional network for promoting technology assisted epidemiology for preventing future pandemics was another proposal that the Prime Minister put forward.Making a strong pitch for regional solidarity, Modi said, “If we focus on all that unites us, our region can overcome not only the present pandemic but also our other challenges too," pointing to poverty, natural disasters and climate change.
"If the 21st century is to be the Asian century, it cannot be without greater integration among the countries of South Asia and Indian Ocean Island countries," he added.
SAARC countries have formed the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to meet the immediate costs of fighting the pandemic.
India has sent vaccines to some 25 countries -- as gifts and as exports -- so far. According to the Indian foreign ministry, India has supplied a total of 229.7 lakh doses of covid-19 vaccine to the global community so far.