Press Release

SAARC Health Ministers’ Video Conference to address the COVID-19 pandemic was held today. Organized by the Government of Pakistan, the Conference was attended by all the Member States.

Hon’ble Dr. Zafar Mirza, Minister of State for Health of Pakistan chaired the Conference. After his opening remarks, the Heads of Delegation from the Member States briefed on their country situations and shared experiences in combating the outbreak of COVID-19. They also reiterated the importance of regional cooperation and solidarity to address and mitigate the unprecedented threat posed by the pandemic to the region.

The Video Conference was attended by Hon’ble Dr. Waheed Majrooh, Deputy Minister of Health Care Services of Afghanistan; Prof. Dr. Abul Kalam Azad, Director General of the Directorate General of the Health Services of Bangladesh; Dr. Ugen Dophu, Secretary, Ministry of Health of Bhutan; Prof. Rajiv Garg, Director General of Health Services of India; Ms. Maimoona Aboobakuru, Director General of Public Health of the Maldives; Hon’ble Mr. Nabaraj Raut, State Minister for Health and Population of Nepal; and Dr. Paba Palihawadane, Deputy Director General of Public Health Services of Sri Lanka.

H. E. Mr. Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, Secretary General of SAARC, also participated in the Conference. In his remarks, the Secretary General expressed readiness of the SAARC Secretariat to assist the Member States in the fight against the global pandemic. 

It is recalled that at the SAARC Leaders’ Video Conference on COVID-19, proposed by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, held on 15 March 2020, a SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund was created to which all the Member States have pledged voluntary contributions. As a follow-up to the Conference of the SAARC Leaders, meetings of Health Professionals and Trade Officials of the SAARC countries have also been held.


23 April 2020

SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu.

The Leaders of the Member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) held a Video Conference on 15 March 2020 to discuss measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region.  


H. E. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, who proposed the Video Conference, delivered the opening remarks. He called upon SAARC Leaders to work collectively to fight the spread of the pandemic in the region. He said that all Member States must prepare, act and succeed together. The Prime Minister also proposed the creation of a COVID-19 Emergency Fund with voluntary contributions from all Member States, and pledged an amount of US$ 10 million as an initial contribution from India.  

All the Heads of State or Government or their representative addressed the Conference. In their remarks, the Leaders appreciated this timely initiative of the Prime Minister of India.


The Leaders shared country situations and experiences in the aftermath of the outbreak of COVID-19, as well as measures taken by them to control the spread of the virus. They recognized the unprecedented threat posed by the outbreak of COVID-19 and the urgency with which the Member States needed to work together to prevent and contain the spread of the virus.  They also recognized the need to analyze and address the long-term economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region.


Among the proposals shared by the Leaders included continuing the consultation process through meetings at the ministerial and experts’ level; identifying the Nodal Experts to take further action on the proposals discussed during the Conference; and formulating a comprehensive regional strategy against COVID-19 through the SAARC process and other appropriate mechanisms.


The Video Conference of the SAARC Leaders was attended by H. E. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; H. E. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh; H. E. Dr. Lotay Tshering, Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Bhutan; H. E. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of the Republic of India; H. E. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, President of the Republic of Maldives; Rt. Hon. KP Sharma Oli, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal; H. E. Dr. Zafar Mirza, State Minister for Health of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; and H. E. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.  


H. E. Mr. Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, Secretary General of SAARC, attended the Conference. The Conference was also attended by Mr. P. K. Taneja, Director, SAARC Disaster Management Centre (Interim Unit).


Kathmandu, 15 March 2020

H. E. Mr. Esala Ruwan Weerakoon, Secretary General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), paid a courtesy call on Hon. Mr. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal and the Chair of the SAARC Council of Ministers, on 11 March 2020, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kathmandu.


The Hon. Foreign Minister felicitated the Secretary General on his appointment as the fourteenth Secretary General of SAARC. The Secretary General thanked the Government of Nepal for endorsing his nomination. He also expressed the hope that the Government of Nepal would lend its valuable support and guidance to him in the accomplishment of his responsibility as the Secretary General of SAARC.


The Hon. Foreign Minister conveyed good wishes for success of Mr. Weerakoon as the Secretary General of SAARC and expressed confidence that with his long diplomatic experience and good knowledge about South Asia, he would be able to bring fresh momentum in the SAARC process. The Hon. Foreign Minister assured him of the full support of the Government of Nepal in his endeavours to make SAARC an active, efficient and result-oriented organization.


While reiterating Nepal’s commitment to the SAARC process, the Hon. Foreign Minister underscored the need for early convening of the Nineteenth SAARC Summit. He further stated that Nepal, as the current Chair of SAARC, has been in consultation with other Member States to create a conducive environment for early convening of the Summit. The Hon. Foreign Minister stated that SAARC has been making steady progress in the past thirty-five years and stressed the need to make SAARC more active and vibrant to fully tap regional economic potentials and overcome common challenges of the region.


Kathmandu, 11 March 2020

H. E. Mr. Esala Ruwan Weerakoon of Sri Lanka assumed charge of office as the Secretary General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) with effect from 01 March 2020. He is the fourteenth Secretary General of SAARC.


            H. E. Mr. Weerakoon is a career diplomat. Prior to this appointment, he was the Senior Additional Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka. He has also served as the Foreign Secretary and Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs, Sri Lanka. In his thirty-two years of diplomatic service, he has also served as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India and Ambassador to Norway.


            H. E. Mr. Weerakoon holds a MSc degree in Economics from the University of London.



 02 March 2020

SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu.