All Member countries of WHO South-East Asia Region, on Thursday, resolved to collectively fight COVID-19 and strengthen the region’s response with better-equipped health systems to deliver essential health services during the pandemic.

“The spread of COVID-19 has impacted almost every community, overwhelmed health systems and disrupted economies and livelihoods with effects reaching far beyond the health sector. It has also disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable. WHO recently surveyed countries to understand better the priorities in the South East Asia Region. At the top of the agenda is maintaining essential health services,’ said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Signing the Declaration on ‘Collective Response to COVID-19’ along with Ministers of Health and representatives of Member countries, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said, “People’s ordinary health needs do not disappear during such extraordinary events. Health security is not only about building capacity to prevent, prepare for and respond to acute events. It must also be about building capacity to maintain essential health services for the duration of response and into the recovery.”

The Declaration was signed at the end of a ministerial round table on the second and last day of the Seventy-third Regional Committee Session, hosted by Thailand, and held virtually for the first time ever due to COVID-19 pandemic.

During the roundtable, all Member countries shared their various COVID-19 response measures and efforts being made to maintain essential health services and restore those impacted due to the pandemic.

All countries agreed to the importance of universal health coverage and primary health care as a safety net for people to access quality health services – both COVID-19 and other essential services, including the most vulnerable population.

The Declaration calls for efforts to ensure countries sustain essential health services and public health programs during public health emergencies and use the current pandemic as an opportunity to build back their health systems to be better.

All countries in the region agreed to fully engage in a global discussion on equitable allocation of vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for COVID-19.

“All people, all sectors, all countries and all partners must come together to strengthen the response and build a recovery and future that is more health secure, and in which all people’s health needs are met as a precondition to achieving the sustainable development to which we strive,” added Dr Khetrapal Singh.