We are in this for long haul: WHO South Asia Director on Covid-19

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on May 15, 2020

World Health Organization advised South Asian countries to carefully assess local epidemiology as the countries are set to lift the lockdown gradually, WHO mentioned in its official release.

WHO believes that this will set the future course of action to combat the deadly virus, which has already claimed more than 3 lakh lives.

“Countries in the Region must continue to take evidence-informed action and conduct careful risk assessments while winding back public health and social measures. The focus should be on the local epidemiology of Covid-19, to identify hot-spots and clusters, and the capacity of systems and responders to find, isolate and care for cases, and quarantine contacts,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.

The Regional Director held a virtual technical briefing meeting with senior health officials of 11 Member countries for the forthcoming virtual 73rd World Health Assembly session.

She said that despite the region being the first to get Covid-19 on January 13 in Thailand, early and aggressive measures by member countries, including unprecedented physical distancing measures, have helped keep the number of cases low as compared to other parts of the world.

With countries now preparing to transition towards a “new normal” in which social and economic life can function, continued whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach would be critical, said Dr Khetrapal Singh.

Disaster management

As of this morning, the South Asian region has approximately 1.22 lakh cases and 4,000 deaths due to Covid-19. Countries in the region are in various transmission scenarios and the cases are increasing.

“In every transmission scenario, the core public health measures remain – rapidly detect, test, isolate, care and trace contacts, the Regional Director said, adding that moving forward we need to scale up these measures,” she added.

She elaborated that prone to natural disasters, the region has been prioritizing strengthening emergency response capacities as a flagship program since 2014. In September 2019 member countries adopted Delhi Declaration on Emergency Preparedness in the South-East Asia Region reaffirming their continued commitment to disaster risk reduction through a multi-hazard approach to emergency preparedness.

The declaration called for “four I’s”: identify risks; invest in people and systems for risk management; implement plans and inter-link sectors and networks. “The declaration was timely and we are seeing this approach put to use across the region,” she said.

The South Asian region has one-fourth of the global population and disproportionate disease burden, however, it continues to be vulnerable in view of high population densities, mega-urban slums, migrant groups, socio-economic drivers.

“There can be no illusions: We are in this for the long haul,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Published on May 15, 2020

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