New Delhi, May 20 (PTI) There has been a significant contraction in the global economy due to COVID-19 and recovery will only pick up pace once the world puts the pandemic behind it together, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Thursday.
Chairing the opening session of the 33rd meeting of the Health Ministers of Commonwealth countries, he also said that “no country can remain safe in silos”.
The theme of this meeting is “Commonwealth Response to COVID-19: Ensuring Equitable Access to Vaccines and Building Resilience for Health Systems and Emergencies”.
“The economic cost of this pandemic has already run into hundreds of billions of dollars leading to a significant contraction in the global economy. The road to recovery may be hard and shall only pick up pace once the entire world is able to put the pandemic behind it together,' Vardhan was quoted as saying in a health ministry statement.
The minister addressed the meeting through video conference and shared his views on the way forward.
“We must acknowledge that if the threat continues to loom in any country or region, it holds the potential to spill over and cover the entire globe. No country can remain safe in silos!” Vardhan said.
Explaining India's stance on the global strategy to combat COVID-19, he said national prevention strategies have been built largely on the prongs of early testing, isolation and treatment of cases along with population wide vaccination.
However, for effectively ending the pandemic, more COVID-19 vaccines need to be developed and once proven to be both safe and efficacious against the virus, must be deployed rapidly across the world, the minister said.
To this end, the World Health Organisation-led initiative 'Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator' has proven to be a ground-breaking global collaboration which is expediting development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, he said.
COVAX, the vaccine pillar of ACT Accelerator, aims to deliver at least two billion vaccines by the end of 2021, covering 20 per cent of the most vulnerable population in about 92 low and middle-income countries.
India believes that this alone may not be enough and must be supplemented by all multilateral and bilateral platforms in accelerating coordinated action focused on equitable access to vaccines while also ensuring fair and transparent pricing, Vardhan said according to the statement.
The minister reminded member delegates that India has provided COVID-19 vaccines to more than 90 countries under its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative and is committed to working with all partners to do more, it said.
Vardhan also outlined how India can help the world and said that “in addition to the vaccines, cold chain infrastructure, skilled manpower and robust IT infrastructure also needs to be put in place to quickly inoculate our people”.
Sharing of knowledge, resources and technology, especially with small and vulnerable states is thus imperative to end this global threat, he said.
Vardhan noted that the poor and vulnerable are often left reeling under severe financial distress due to any illness.
This COVID-19 pandemic has thus foregrounded the need to intensify efforts towards achieving the ultimate goal of universal health coverage, he said.
“My motto has always been 'Health for those without wealth',” Vardhan said, according to the statement.
He informed the meeting how the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ programme, which is the largest health insurance scheme in the world, is providing coverage to over 500 million people, it said.
Vardhan took a strong note to build not only resilient but also transparent global health systems.
“In a closely interconnected world like ours, a threat in any region can turn into a grave challenge for all of us in no time,” he said.
“Thus, building dynamic global response systems which are quick in identifying emerging health threats and directing an international response to contain them has become imperative for addressing all current and future challenges,' Vardhan said.
He said that Commonwealth Health Ministers met virtually in May 2020 for the first time to define a coordinated mechanism for responding to the ongoing pandemic which had proposed on building a COVID-19 Technical Working Group by leveraging a tailored price-sharing database for medicines, vaccines and health technologies.
The minister hoped that the deliberations over the next two days would continue to build on the progress of the collaborative efforts so far, the statement said.
Vardhan urged states to not just focus on COVID management but also on Commonwealth's pre-COVID health priorities and non-COVID health challenges like non-communicable diseases, immunisation, malnutrition that the Commonwealth, it said. PTI PLB ANB ANB