Southeast Asia region should cooperate for public gains: India


New Delhi : The emerging economies of Southeast Asia, which are setting global health agendas, should join hands for public gains in health care, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said here Monday.

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“I would like to say that with the increasing role being played by our emerging economies in setting global health agendas, taking our cooperation forward would result in public health gains for all of us and enable us to meet the aspirations of our people for equitable and accessible health care,” he said.

He was speaking at the 26th Health Ministers and the 61st Regional Committee Session of Southeast Asia region of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“In keeping with its commitment at the 14th SAARC summit held in New Delhi last year, India is implementing a telemedicine project in the SAARC region under which super-speciality hospitals in India will provide telemedicine services to designated hospitals in member states,” he added.

The project is already being implemented in Bhutan and Sri Lanka and will be extended to other SAARC countries. This programme can be adapted to the Southeast Asia region under WHO, he added.

Besides India, the other countries in the WHO Southeast Asia region are Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and East Timor.

Mukherjee said the region is home to more than a quarter of the world’s population, with almost 30 percent of the global disease burden.

“The countries of this region, many of them being economies in transition, bear the irony that on one hand we have strong economic growth leading to prosperity of the people as never before; on the other, sustenance of growth momentum is threatened by weak social sector indicators led by poverty, illiteracy, disease and ill-health,” he said.

Stressing that the health sector is a “very crucial sector and fundamental to overall socio-economic development”, he said it is a priority for any government. “It is well known that poverty and ill-health are closely correlated. Poor countries tend to have distinctly worse health outcomes than wealthier countries.”

Therefore, cooperation in the field of health and medicine will further strengthen the friendly relations and deepen the historic ties that exist among our countries, he said.

Extending her condolences to the millions of people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods in the floods in Bihar, WHO director general Margaret Chan said: “In what looks more and more like a familiar trend, we have been told that this is yet another record-breaking disaster: the worst floods seen in the area for 50 years.”

“Health ministers in this region are concerned about climate change, and rightly so. All the experts tell us: robust health systems that reach the poor are the best protection against the health shocks of extreme weather events,” she added.

“We argue for high-level political commitment to greater health equity in all government policies,” she said.

“We must also argue for greater health equity in the way health systems are organized and financed, and the way services are delivered,” she said.

Highlighting India’s efforts to check tobacco and alcohol consumption, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said smoking in public and private premises would be unlawful from Oct 2.

He said India had also recommended to the World Health Assembly in Geneva to observe World No Alcohol Day on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary on Oct 2.

WHO regional director Samlee Plianbanchang said climate change poses a formidable challenge to human health in the region.