Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday urged neighbouring countries and others to explore the possibility of giving special visas to doctors and nurses to help them reach places of health emergency at the quickest possible time and sought theviews of civil aviation ministries in those countries on launching a regional air ambulance service for medical contingencies.

At a virtual meeting of health officials and experts from countries in the immediate and extended neighbourhood, including Pakistan, Mauritius and Seychelles, the Prime Minister wondered whether these countries can come together to create a regional platform for studying the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines among their population and to set up a regional network for epidemiology to prevent future pandemics.

Modi said the health systems in these countries cooperated well during the pandemic and dispelled concerns by many experts on how the densely populated region will cope with the challenges of the pandemic. “From the very beginning, we all met this challenge with a coordinated response. In March last year, we were the first to come together for recognising the threat and committing to fight it together. Many other regions and groups followed our early example,” the Prime Minister said.

Emergency fund

At the beginning of the pandemic, India took the initiative to create a Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund to meet the immediate costs of fighting the pandemic. “We shared our resources — medicines, PPE, and testing equipment. And, above all, we shared the most valuable commodity — knowledge-through collaborative training of our health workers,” Modi said adding that this sharing of experience helped the countries to develop best practices that worked best for all.

“This spirit of collaboration is a valuable take-away from this pandemic. Through our openness and determination, we have managed to achieve one of the lowest fatality rates in the world. This deserves to be applauded. Today, the hopes of our region and the world are focused on rapid deployment of vaccines. In this too, we must maintain the same cooperative and collaborative spirit,” Modi observed. India has already gifted Covid-19 vaccines produced in India to all countries, barring Pakistan.

He wanted the countries to think aloud about creating a special visa scheme for the doctors and nurses in the region so that they can travel quickly within the region during health emergencies, on the request of the receiving country. He also wanted the civil aviation ministries in these countries to coordinate a regional air ambulance agreement for medical contingencies.

Modi also suggested that the countries can also share the successful public health policies and schemes in these countries. From India, he said, Ayushman Bharat and Jan Arogya schemes may be useful case-studies for the countries in the region. “Such collaboration can become the pathway for greater regional cooperation among us in other areas too. After all, we share so many common challenges – climate change; natural disasters, poverty, illiteracy, and social and gender imbalances. But we also share the power of centuries old cultural and people-to-people linkages,” he said.

“If we focus on all that unites us, our region can overcome not only the present pandemic, but our other challenges too,” Modi said adding that the 21st century cannot be Asian century unless there is greater integration among the countries of South Asia and the Indian Ocean island countries.