Dr. Harshvardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare chaired the opening session of the 33rd meeting of Health Ministers of Commonwealth countries themed “Commonwealth Response to COVID-19: Ensuring Equitable Access to Vaccines and Building Resilience for Health Systems and Emergencies,” through video conference, here today.
Speaking on the devastation caused by the Pandemic, he lamented, “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.” He also shared his views on the way forward in the same vein: “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!” He expressed his heartfelt condolences to each and every family who has lost a loved one to COVID.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan thus explained India’s stance on the Global Strategy to combat COVID-19: “National prevention strategies have been built largely on the prongs of early testing, isolation & treatment of cases along with population wide vaccinations. 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.To this end, the WHO-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.”
COVAX, the vaccine pillar of ACT Accelerator aims to deliver at least two billion vaccines by the end of 2021, covering 20% 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 & bilateral platforms in accelerating coordinated action focused on equitable access to vaccines while also ensuring fair and transparent pricing.
The Minister spoke of India’s long held belief of ‘VasudhaivaKutumbakam’, which exalts the entire world as one family which has informed India’s stance on the issue. He 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.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan outlined how India can help the world and said, “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 & technology, especially with small & vulnerable states is thus imperative to end this global threat.”
Taking note of the fact that many member states have also had to grapple with the challenge of sustaining delivery of essential healthcare services, he pointed out how India’s thrust on telemedicine would show the way. “In India, such hurdles were overcome by the extensive use of technology. Our National telemedicine platform eSanjeevani OPD has been one such remarkable initiative which facilitated over 5 million consultations in a short span of 14 months. We have incorporated innovative service delivery mechanisms in our efforts to fight diseases like AIDS, TB & others. This greatly helped us make up for the ground lost after the onset of the pandemic last year,” he observed.
The poor & vulnerable are often left reeling under severe financial distress due to any illness. The Minister noted that this pandemic has thus foregrounded the need to intensify efforts towards achieving the ultimate goal of universal health coverage. “My motto has always been ‘Health for those without wealth’”, he stated in this regard.He informed the audience how the Ayushman Bharat program which is the largest health insurance scheme in the world is providing coverage to over 500 million people.
Dr. Harsh 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. 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 & future challenges.”
He reminded the forum, 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 and hoped that the deliberations over the next two days would continue to build on the progress of the collaborative efforts so far.
In conclusion of his speech he urged states to not just focus on the COVID management but also on Commonwealth’s pre-COVID health priorities and Non-COVID health challenges like Non-Communicable diseases, immunization, malnutrition that the Commonwealth that needs to address together.
Ms. Patricia Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Dr. TedrosAdhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO and Health Ministers of member states were present at the meet. The Union Health Minister was assisted by senior officials of the Health Ministry.