The Seventy-third Regional Committee Session of WHO South-East Asia Region began on Wednesday with health leaders emphasising on greater investments for strengthening health systems and continued efforts and collaboration for combating COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores that the world is a global village where all lives are intertwined. To win we must collaborate and fight as one. The pandemic has also taught us how important it is to protect our precious health gains. In order to protect our health gains, we must continuously invest in health. Our Region needs to invest more and more in public healthcare and build a robust health delivery system,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Health & Family Welfare, India, while opening the proceedings as Chair of the previous year’s Session.

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, said the pandemic demonstrates interconnectedness of all Sustainable Development Goals. All sectors, public and private are collaborating. This is really unprecedented. While we fight our common enemy COVID-19, we see so many social innovations and solidarity.

Charnvirakul is chairing the annual governing body meeting of WHO in the Region with Thailand hosting the Session this year. The two-day session is being held virtually for the first time ever in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing the Session, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “COVID-19 is causing so much pain, sorrow and uncertainty. But it is also giving us an opportunity. The whole world can now see that health is an essential investment in safer, healthier, fairer and more sustainable societies.”

The Regional Director WHO South-East Asia Region, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said, “Greater investment in public health would help achieve better health outcomes, promote sustainable development and more equitable and just society.”