Senior health professionals from Saarc countries will hold a videoconference today to exchange information and best practices to combat coronavirus in the region.

The event, which is a follow-up to the Saarc leaders' videoconference of March 15, will be held at 12:00noon.

Officials from the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) will participate in it, foreign ministry officials told The Daily Star.

"They [DGHS & IEDCR] are the real players in the field. They will discuss the practical issues on how to best cooperate to fight Covid-19. Those would include the issue of immediate, medium and long-term cooperation" a foreign ministry official told The Daily Star.

Health officials from Saarc region will discuss specific protocols dealing with screening at entry points, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation facilities, as well as practical joint action on online training capsules for emergency response teams, says a statement of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

The aspects of setting up of an Integrated Disease Surveillance Portal, creation of a Common Research Platform and coordination of research on controlling epidemics within the South Asian region are also on the agenda, it says.

Saarc Disaster Management Centre in Gandhinagar has already set up a website (http://www.covid19-sdmc.org/) on Covid-19 for shared use of SAARC countries. The website aims, with the active participation of all member countries, to disseminate reliable information and updates on the evolving situation relating to Covid-19 in the region, and best practices being followed in member countries.

"It is India's belief that sharing of resources, expertise, best practices and capacities in these challenging times would go a long way in bringing the countries in the SAARC region closer together," the statement said.

Proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who initiated the videoconference, Saarc countries have already created an emergency fund to tackle Covid-19.

India has committed its contribution of $10 million, Sri Lanka $5 million, Bangladesh $1.5 million, Afghanistan and Nepal $1 million each, Maldives $200,000 and Bhutan $100,000, making the total at $18.3 million.

Pakistan has yet to make any contribution to the fund.





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