Health and Population Activities
i. SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC)
The STAC was established in 1992 to play an important role in the prevention and control of tuberculosis in the region by coordinating efforts of national programmes. The centre was renamed as SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre in 2005. The SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS has been developed in coordination with the centre. The responsibility of coordinating and implementing regional activities related to TB and HIV/AIDS has been assigned to the STAC.
For further details on STAC, please visit their website www.saarctb.com.np
ii. SAARC Health Ministerial Meetings
Emergency Meeting of SAARC Health Ministers (Maldives, April 2003),
In the wake of widespread threats brought about by the emergence of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an Emergency Meeting of SAARC Health Ministers was convened in Male’ in April 2003 to develop a regional strategy to deal with the deadly epidemic. The one-day Meeting decided to take measures to prevent and control spread of SARS in the region as well as to adopt comprehensive preventive measures, such as screening it at entry points, transfer of possible SARS patients to quarantine or isolation facilities and ensuring effective contact tracing. The Ministers adopted the Male’ Declaration on a Collective SAARC Response to SARS.
First Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (November 14-15, 2003, New Delhi)
The health ministers, in their First Meeting stressed upon the need to cooperate on health issues amongst SAARC Member States, not only in the field of traditional system of medicine but also on the whole gamut of health issues confronting the region. They also decided to increase the inter-country cooperation to address the problem of emerging and re-emerging diseases. This context called for strengthening the mechanism for surveillance, reporting, diagnosis and management by exchange of expertise and sharing of infrastructural facilities amongst SAARC Member States. The meeting emphasized on the importance of developing a common regional strategy to combat HIV/AIDS, TB and other deadly communicable diseases and also recommended setting up a SAARC Surveillance Centre and a Rapid Deployment Health Response System.
Second Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (July 16, 2005, Islamabad)
The Health Ministers adopted the Islamabad Declaration on Health and Population, in which the Member States agreed to setup a regional institutional mechanism and establishment of national focal points within the Ministries of Health and Population; share experiences, technical expertise and success in the region in health and population areas; establish SAARC Disease Surveillance Centre and a Rapid Deployment Health Response System; work together towards developing regional policies and programmes as well as effective partnerships in order to check illegal trade in drugs and medicines; establish an expert group on population issues under the mandate of Technical Committee on Health and Population; complement the region’s efforts in achieving MDGs and addressing other priority health and population issues; and strengthen regional mechanism for exchange of faculty and students in disciplines of medical sciences and public health education.
Third Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (April 25-26, 2005, Dhaka)
The SAARC Health Ministers welcomed the launching of SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS. The Meeting urged the Member States to setup National Commissions on Macroeconomics and Health for Resource Mobilization. The Meeting also mandated the proposed meeting of the expert group on setting up of SAARC Disease Surveillance Centre to develop a comprehensive and multi-sectoral strategy covering both animal and human health in the context of pandemic preparedness. The Meeting directed the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities to hold deliberations on the issue of reproductive health with a view to advancing effective regional cooperation; prepare guidelines for a Regional Initiative on Basic Healthcare Services, Nutrition, Safe Water and Sanitation particularly in rural areas; consider preparation of SAARC Plan of Action in the areas of medical expertise and pharmaceuticals, harmonization of standards and certification procedures; and production of affordable medicines as well as traditional medicines. The health ministers also adopted the Dhaka Declaration – A Better Health Profile for South Asia.
Fourth Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (Male 10-12 April 2012)
The Meeting welcomed the launching of the SAARC Regional Strategy for Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases. The Meeting recommended strengthening the SAARC mechanisms to scale up interventions for vulnerable groups focusing on cross-border issues through SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC). The ministers, among others, urged upon the Member States to implement the decision of the seventeenth SAARC summit to formulate an actionable framework to address the common challenges of sanitation and access to safe drinking water in the region; complete all necessary processes for upgrading the SAARC TB reference Laboratory at SAARC TB and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC), Kathmandu to Supra-National Reference Laboratory; focus on the speedy implementation of regional projects that bring about tangible gains for the people of the region; and continued commitments to strengthen mechanisms to reduce malnutrition including enforcement of existing regulations on breast milk substitutes and salt iodization. The health ministers also adopted the Male Resolution on Regional Health Issues.
Fifth Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (New Delhi, 08 April 2015)
The SAARC Health Ministers launched the HIV/AIDS Progress Report (2004-2014) “Getting to Zero: How Innovation, Policy Reform and Focused Investments can help South Asia end the Aids Epidemic by 2030”, developed by SAARC, with the collaboration of UNAIDS. The Meeting discussed the Draft Delhi Declaration on Public Health Challenges (8 April 2015) and adopted/approved the Declaration with slight amendments proposed by the Member States.
iii. Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities
The First Meeting of the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities (TC-HPA), under RIPA, was held on November 8-9, 2005 at Dhaka. The committee reviews the progress of agenda implementation of the health ministers’ meetings. The mandate/scope of the committee includes Regional Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, population stabilization, drug rehabilitation, demand and harm reduction, mental health and physical disabilities, primary healthcare, cooperation in pharmaceutical regulations, population, health and environmental integration, disease surveillance monitoring and early warning system, cooperation in traditional medicines etc.
The second Meeting of TC-HPA was held in Kathmandu on May 5-6, 2008, discussed the project concept notes on Maternal and Child Healthcare and Immunization.
The third Meeting of TC-HPA was held in New Delhi on July 30-31, 2009. This Meeting emphasized the common challenge of communicable diseases in the region and urged implementation at the national level.
The fourth Meeting of TC-HPA was held in New Delhi from 9-10 October 2013. The Meeting while considering matters relating to the up-gradation of SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC’s) Laboratory to Supra-national Laboratory recommended that SAARC Secretariat may once approach the Member States (Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan) with the request to convey the willingness and extent of “voluntary financial contributions”, before the next meeting of SAARC Health Ministers. The 44th Meeting of Programming Committee (SAARC Secretariat, 9-11 December 2013) directed the Secretariat to approach the SDF with a request for funding, in the event that the Secretariat does not receive views/comments from Member States. Accordingly, the Secretariat approached SDF on 23 July 2014 and submitted proposal prepared by STAC regarding funding for the up-gradation of STAC’s Laboratory to a Supra-National Laboratory. The Government of Bangladesh, on 11 October 2014, confirmed voluntary contribution of USD 25,000 for up-gradation of STAC’s Laboratory to Supra-national Laboratory. Formal requests have been sent to India, Nepal and Pakistan to offer their views/comments regarding voluntary contributions. On 22 October 2014 Pakistan conveyed its regret for voluntary contributions.
The Fifth Meeting of TC-HPA was also held in New Delhi on 06 April 2015 which discussed various health related matters/projects and recommended setting up of Expert Groups for Vector Borne Diseases (Malaria/Dengue/Chikangunya and others), Elimination of Malari and Hepatitis.
iv. SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS (2013-2017)
Pursuant to the directive of the Twelfth SAARC Summit, SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV and AIDS (2006-2010) was developed along with a regional workplan for implementation of the Strategy.
The vision of the strategy is to halt and reverse the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS, to commit leaders to lead the fight against HIV and AIDS and to provide People Living with HIV and AIDS access to affordable treatment and care and enjoy a dignified life. The regional strategy is to guide the regional response to the epidemic. The Strategy also articulates the need to “facilitate evidence based advocacy and programming for children affected by HIV and AIDS in the Member Countries and to coordinate the efforts towards developing the costed actions plans in all countries through the mechanism of a regional forum”.
Regional Expert Group on HIV/AIDS has been formed and meets annually to review progress of implementation of the SAARC Strategy on HIV/AIDS. The Third SAARC expert group meeting on HIV/AIDS was held, in collaboration with the UNAIDS, on January 28-29, 2008 at the SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu. Based on the discussion, the group made a number of recommendations such as STC Regional Reference Laboratory to be upgraded and strengthened to work as Regional Reference Laboratory for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre with technical assistance of WHO. The Fourth and Fifth SAARC expert group meetings on HIV/AIDS were held on February 25-26, 2010 and May 19-20, 2011 at the SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu. The fifth expert group meeting recommended revision of the Existing Regional Strategy (2012-16).
Pursuant to this decision, the SAARC Consultative Meeting of Programme Managers of HIV/AIDS to develop SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS 2012-2016 was held in Islamabad from 15-17 June 2012. As recommended by this Meeting, an Expert Group Meeting held in Thimphu from 5-6 March 2013, finalized the SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS 2013-2017. The Fourth Meeting of the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities held in New Delhi from 9-10 October 2013, endorsed the Strategy and recommended that while implementing the new regional strategy, STAC should take into account MDGs, SDGs as well as post 2015 Health and Development agenda. Furthermore, the Technical Committee emphasized, (i) effective implementation of communication strategies focusing on stigma and discrimination; (ii) rights based approach for prevention: and (iii) strengthening legal provisions related to HIV and AIDS in SAARC Member States.The revised Strategy is already under implementation and with the financial assistance of UNAIDS, Seventh Meeting of SAARC Expert Group to review the progress of implementation of the Strategy was hosted by the government of India on 07 April 2015 (New Delhi).
v. Telemedicine Network Project
During the Thirteenth Summit, the Prime Minister of India had proposed establishing a collaborative healthcare project involving a regional Telemedicine Network. During the Fourteenth SAARC Summit, the Leaders noted with appreciation the establishment of a regional telemedicine-network and directed that steps be taken to extend it to other ICT enabled fields such as education.
The SAARC Telemedicine Network Project is at an advance stage and has already started functioning in some Member States.
vi. Communicable Diseases, Disease Surveillance and Pandemic Preparedness
During The Eleventh SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, 4-6 January 2002), “the Leaders recognized the debilitating and widespread impact of the HIV/ AIDS, TB and other deadly communicable diseases on the population of South Asia and stressed the need for evolving a regional strategy to combat these diseases.
The Twelfth SAARC Summit held in Islamabad in January 2004 and the subsequent Health Ministers meetings held in 2005 and 2006, the Leaders and the Ministers for Health reiterated the importance of taking necessary steps to ensure that there is a collective, systematic and coordinated approach towards diseases surveillance in the region
Increasing emergence and re-emergence of epidemics and communicable diseases such as SARS, Avian Influenza, Chikungunya Fever etc in the region raises the urgency of developing appropriate regional measures and capacity for disease surveillance and pandemic preparedness.
During the Thirteenth SAARC Summit (Dhaka, 13 November 2005) Leaders “underscored the need for increasing cooperation to develop regional strategies for the prevention and treatment of Dengue, Malaria and other infectious or communicable diseases constituting major public health concerns.
SAARC Expert Group Meeting on Disease Surveillance and Rapid Deployment of Health Response System to deal with Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases (Delhi, 26-27 Nov.2008) recommended regional approaches and a way forward to develop regional institutional capacity and appropriate systems for early warning, rapid deployment health response and to review public health guidelines.
The SAARC Expert Group Meeting to Develop SAARC Regional Strategy on Communicable Diseases was held in Paro, Bhutan from 7-8 July 2008. The Meeting developed Draft Framework for SAARC Regional Strategy on Communicable Diseases.
An Expert Group Meeting was held in Colombo (28-29 March 2012) to finalize the SAARC Regional Strategy on Communicable Diseases . The Fourth Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers held in the Maldives on 12 April 2012 launched the SAARC Regional Strategy on Communicable Diseases.
Futhermore, a Project titled “strengthening surveillance and response capacity for highly pathogenic and emerging and re-emerging diseases in SAARC countries (2009-2014)" was completed with the support of WHO/European Commission.
viii. SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors Programme (for HIV and AIDS)
Pursuant to the directive of the Twelfth SAARC Summit, SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV and AIDS was developed along with a regional workplan for implementation of the Strategy. Under the component on Policy and Advocacy, the SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors Programme was recommended with the aim of bringing the issue of HIV and AIDS to the political and public forefront taking advantage of their celebrity status and through their public and media appeal reach the widest possible audiences with the message of avoiding risky behaviour and removing stigma and discrimination against People Living with HIV and AIDS.
The Thirtieth Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers (Colombo, 31 July - 1 August 2008) approved two regional personalities: Ms. Shabana Azmi from India; and Mr. Sanath Jayasuriya from Sri Lanka as SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors for HIV and AIDS.
The SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for HIV and AIDS Initiative has commenced with the visit of Ms. Shabana Azmi to Nepal, as the SAARC Goodwill Ambassador to raise awareness and advocate greater support to the fight against HIV and AIDS in January 2009. Her interaction with children and people affected by HIV and AIDS and her plea to the public to remove the social stigma and discrimination against People living with HIV/AIDS received wide publicity.
Furthermore, the Meeting of the Selection Committee was convened on 2nd January 2013 at the SAARC Secretariat. The Selection Committee appreciated the outstanding service of Ms. Shabana Azmi as SAARC Goodwill Ambassador. The Selection Committee in its Report recommended the following three regional personalities to be conferred with the honorary title of SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors:
a. Ms. Runa Lalia, Bangladesh
b. Shri Ajay Devgan, India
c. Ms. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Pakistan