Friday, April 13, 2012

SAARC Health Ministers' Conference at Male: Azad Calls for Regional Cooperation

Addressing the fourth Health Ministers’ Conference at Male, Maldives on 12th March, the Union Health and Family Welfare Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad said that a strong and vibrant public health care system can cope with the enormous challenges emanating from demographic and epidemiological transition in the SAARC region.

Azad has said “We should collaborate amongst ourselves to find our own concrete solutions which are feasible, cost effective and suitable for our region”. The Minister added that full advantage of the strength and vibrancy of SAARC in addressing the common health problems of the region should be taken.

The President of Maldives, Dr Mohammed Waheed inaugurated the Health Ministers’ Conference. He noted that the meeting was being held at a very critical time, when there is a need to pool the resources, to recognise the changes and to agree on useful and effective solutions.

Noting that regional cooperation have long been a norm in combating common challenges, President Waheed expressed confidence that SAARC can continue to play a pivotal role in achieving better health goals for its peoples. He said the initiatives under the auspices of the meetings of SAARC Health Ministers, would greatly enhance the common understanding and capacity to deal with regional health challenges.

“Such collaborations not only make economic sense and results in efficiency, but also lead to greater understanding of the nature of the present challenges and foster clear-cut responses”, he said. The President further said he was confident that this forum would continue to address regional health issues such as the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the challenges faced by many small countries in the area of Human Resources for Health, and “the very real threat of bio-terrorism, which require cohesive strategies and approaches across all countries of the region”.

In his speech, the President also highlighted the challenges to the health system of the Maldives. Describing those challenges, he said those challenges include “irresponsible and ill-informed intervention in the organization and management of the health system”; the dismantling of public health system; experimentation with the management of the system based on political activists; and, the complete neglect of prevention and primary health care.

Taking note of the large burden of communicable diseases and unacceptably high levels of maternal and child mortality, particularly in India and Pakistan, Azad had stated that adopting a comprehensive strategy for Diseases Surveillance for Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases is the need of the hour.
Azad emphasised that it is of paramount importance to develop and put in place a comprehensive strategy for surveillance, early detection and response to such diseases and infections. Among the strategies discussed during the Health Ministers’ Conference include capacity building, effective response, laboratory support, information sharing, cross border collaboration, monitoring and research. 

 Azad stated that there are many examples of successful strategies and programs in the region in combating dreadful diseases. Directly Observed Treatment Short-course (DOTS) strategy originated from TB research in India and is now the global paradigm in TB prevention and control.

The response to HIV/AIDS in India over the last decade has yielded encouraging outcomes in terms of prevention and control of HIV whereby the number of annual new HIV infections has declined by more than 50% during the last decade from 2.7 lakh new infections in 2000 to 1.2 lakh in 2009, Azad elaborated.

Sri Lanka is an example of public health excellence in the region with health status indicators comparable with the best in the world. Bangladesh has set an example in dramatically reducing infant and maternal mortality in the face of most crippling circumstances, Azad pointed out. 


 Azad also invited attention of the gathering to the issue of non-communicable diseases  (NCDs) that have emerged as the major threat to the health of our populations. Tobacco related cancers, chronic cardio-vascular diseases, hypertension and diabetes are significantly contributing to morbidity and mortality in the region.

He said India’s experience in developing laboratory capabilities and a system of quality assurance could be of great assistance to the SAARC countries. “India would welcome requests from any country in training of manpower in the fields of epidemiology, disease surveillance, diagnostic tools and techniques and Information, Communication Technology applications” Azad offered.

Azad also suggested the Health Ministers of the region should meet more often to deliberate upon a selected theme or subject of common interest and agree on an action plan. “This should be followed up by interactions and workshops at the level of officials and technical experts 2-3 times a year on sharing of best practices, technological applications and innovations, and cross-border collaborations. In this regard, it is my privilege to state that India volunteers to host the next meeting of SAARC Health Ministers” Azad said.

Twenty Seven years ago SAARC was born with the objective of fostering joint action and cooperation in solving common problems, furthering regional interests and fulfilling the aspirations of the peoples of South Asia with the conviction that regional cooperation among the countries of South Asia is mutually beneficial, desirable and necessary for improving the quality of life of the peoples of the region.

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