India has underlined the need for the global community to chart out long-term strategies and roadmaps to deal with future pandemics and their impacts, emphasising that barriers to equitable access to affordable medicines and new technologies must be addressed.
Speaking at the UN General Assembly session on 'Global Health and Foreign Policy', Counsellor in India's Permanent Mission to the UN Pratik Mathur said on Monday the international community needed to capitalise on existing programmes such as the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACTA), and COVAX facility to ensure affordable and equitable global access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, while strengthening health systems.
"We need to come up with long term strategies and roadmaps to put in place a system to deal with the future pandemics," he said. "The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted systemic weaknesses in health systems and vulnerabilities in the capacity to prevent and respond to pandemic threats. We need to address the major weaknesses and gaps to strengthen global coordination to ensure that the world is better prepared to curb the impacts of future health-related crisis," he said.
Mathur stressed that nations must address all barriers against access to medicines and new technologies, including through use of flexibilities provided in WTO TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration. There is also a need to strengthen capacity of community health workers, who play a crucial role in covering the last mile in delivery of services, he said.
COVAX is one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was launched in April by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Commission and France in response to the pandemic. COVAX is the sole global effort to ensure that people across the world get access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are available, regardless of their wealth and circumstances.
The 193-member General Assembly decided by consensus to proclaim December 27 as the 'International Day of Epidemic Preparedness' - a day to highlight the importance of the prevention of, preparedness for and partnerships against epidemics such as COVID-19.
President of the General Assembly Volkan Bozkir said the COVID-19 pandemic had cost around one and a half million lives and shown the dire socio-economic consequences of a pandemic. "This is a wake-up call, for greater political commitment and action, multilateral cooperation, and health care solidarity, which are essential, to support global economic recovery and to build back better," he said.
So far, more than 67 million people across the world have been infected and over 1.5 million people have died from the coronavirus, he said. India welcomed the resolutions on International Day of Epidemic Preparedness and United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing 2021-2030 tabled in the General Assembly.
Mathur told the General Assembly that India had extended medical and other assistance to more than 150 countries to fight against the COVID-19. He said the India-UN Development Partnership Fund, managed by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, was working rapidly to support projects responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"India has taken proactive measures from the early stage of the virus spread which ensured that we stayed ahead of the curve," he said. Emphasising that health does not alone mean freedom from diseases but rather encompasses all-inclusive wellness, Mathur outlined the four main pillars of India's holistic approach towards healthcare.
The first pillar is Preventive Healthcare that lays special emphasis on Yoga, Ayurveda and fitness to control lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure, hypertension and depression. Affordable Healthcare makes up the second pillar of India's holistic approach towards healthcare, he said.
In this context, India launched the National Health Protection Scheme two years ago aimed at expanding access to primary healthcare service through Health and Wellness Centers and providing insurance coverage for secondary and tertiary care hospitalisation to poor and vulnerable families.
Currently more than 150,000 Health and Wellness Centers are operational and a total of 126 million health cards have been issued and 14 million people have availed treatments under the scheme. The third pillar is improvements on the supply side and the government has taken several major steps for quality medical education, and for medical infrastructure development, he said.
The last pillar is mission mode intervention under which India started the National Nutrition Policy to improve the nutritional status of the people, especially disadvantaged groups, including mothers, adolescent girls and children.
India also plans to achieve the target of ending Tuberculosis by 2025, five years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals deadline of 2030. In order to reach this ambitious goal, India has started implementing the National Strategic Plan and has substantially increased fund allocation for TB control, he said.
"The motto of the Government of India, 'Together, for everyone's growth, with everyone's trust' resonates with the core SDG principle of leaving no one behind, Mathur said.