Use the Covid-19 pandemic as opportunity to invest in public healthcare around South Asia and promote regionalism

South Asian governments must collaborate to ensure vaccine, medicine, and oxygen supply to the entire region, in the spirit of cohabitation and equity in a region of historical cultural affinity

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of healthcare systems around the world, with some countries faring better than others in terms of protecting their citizens.

The South Asian region, home to nearly a quarter of the world’s population, has healthcare systems that are among the worst in the globe. Medical and healthcare professionals in all the countries of this region face similar challenges.

We, the undersigned, affirm that healthcare is a basic human right tied to the concepts of representative democracy, equity and human dignity.

In this under-funded field dominated by the private sector, the poor are left to fend for themselves and even the well-to-do are not served adequately as witnessed in India recently. At least a quarter of a million deaths since January this year have left families and communities in India devastated, and the economy impacted for the long term.

We fear that the unfolding tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to engulf other countries with similarly poor healthcare systems. Covid-19 infections are already spiking elsewhere, particularly Nepal which shares a long and open border with India. Infection rates are rising in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka has entered another period of lockdown. Afghanistan is entering a phase of grave security crisis even as the pandemic spreads.

Challenging and difficult as the situation is, we believe that the Covid-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to evaluate, introspect and improve governance. The weaknesses laid bare by the pandemic provide lessons for regional cooperation, not only in healthcare planning and response but in other areas from governance to economic policy, conflict-resolution and peace-building.

We believe that the pandemic must be used as an alarm bell for civil society across South Asian countries to work to revive the spirit of regional cooperation. Empathy and amity will lead to social and economic advancement of the entire region. To begin with, the reduction of internal and external challenges will lead to reduced security expenditures, and vast amounts of funds would be released in each society for social spending, including in the health sector.

In the need for vaccines and their fair distribution, in the desperate need for medical oxygen supply, and in the poor quality of public hospitals and public healthcare all over South Asia, we see a clear need for South Asia-wide cooperation during the current pandemic and into the future. This may be an opportune time to revive the idea of an association of physicians of South Asia which could help spearhead this effort.

Both within countries and across nations there is also an urgent need to strengthen and streamline systems to manage emergencies, including public health emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic, so that available resources can be efficiently and equitably distributed for the benefit of local communities. 

Besides collaborating to tackle public health crises of the future, the spirit of regional cooperation is also vital to take on other global challenges that make South Asia especially vulnerable, from the climate crisis to species loss, plastic pollution and loss of cultural diversity. Within South Asia, we need to cooperate on the entire range of issues from economic growth models to local governance, safeguarding of minority rights, economic and social rights, civil and political rights, as well as accountability and devolution/decentralisation.

We reaffirm our faith in humanity, as seen in health professionals working around the clock in great personal danger to help victims of Covid-19, filling the vacuum left by formal state structures. We draw inspiration from those working in each country as well as across borders,  and the voluntary working on relief and resource distribution carried out regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or nationality.

We observe from the past year’s experience that the most decentralised of the region’s states and provinces have been the most successful in tackling the pandemic and ensuring equity in services provided.

Against the backdrop of the raging Covid-19 pandemic, we urge the civil society and governments of South Asia to:

1.   Commit to South Asia-wide regional cooperation across the national borders to ensure equitable distribution of vaccine supplies, as well as other needs, including medical oxygen and critical care resources. Within each country, ensure the principle of equal access to medical facilities.

2.   Provide clear and consistent messaging in various languages about the need for lockdowns, mask-wearing and physical distancing.

3.   Work to immediately raise healthcare budgets and improve public hospitals, clinics and health posts.

4.   Act on the understanding that, for public health as well as the general welfare of the people in each country, the vital governance component is devolution (empowering provinces and states, particularly of the larger countries) and decentralisation (empowering local governments and grassroots organisations all over). 

For list of signatories, please scroll below. To endorse the charter, please click this link.

To join SAPAN, please fill this form (link)

Endorsed:

SAPAN founder members

  1. Amartya Sen, economist
  2. Raza Rumi, journalist, editor
  3. Beena Sarwar, journalist, editor
  4. Kanak Mani Dixit, author, journalist
  5. Lalita Ramdas, Educator and Activist
  6. Salima Hashmi, artist 
  7. Dr Syeda Hameed, feminist, activist
  8. Sanjoy Hazarika, filmmaker, activist
  9. Rubina Saigol, feminist, educationist 
  10. Khushi Kabir, Activist
  11. Tapan Bose, Screenwriter, Founder member PIPFPD
  12. Dr Shahidul Alam, photographer, Drik, Bangladesh 
  13. M Tahseen, South Asia Partnership-Pakistan
  14. Jatin Desai, Journalist, Peace Activist
  15. Kavita Srivastava, Human Rights Worker
  16. Ammu Joseph, Independent Journalist
  17. Sushobha Barve, activist, Gurgaon
  18. Khawar Mumtaz, Activist and Former Chairperson NCSW, Pakistan
  19. Catherine Masud, Asst Professor, Human Rights and Documentary Film, University of Connecticut
  20. Aliya Rab, Architect/Planner, USA
  21. Zakia Sarwar, educationist, Karachi/Boston
  22. Baela Jamil, Educator and CEO Idara Taleem-o-Agahi, Lahore
  23. Karamat Ali, Activist, Pakistan
  24. Nighat S. Khan, Founder Member PIPFPD
  25. Aekta Kapoor, editor, eShe magazine
  26. Irfan Mufti, Activist, South Asia Partnership Pakistan
  27. Shahram Azhar, Assistant Professor of Economics, Bucknell University, Pennsylvania
  28. Ravi Nitesh, Founder-Aaghaz-e-Dosti, New Delhi, India
  29. Kalpana Sharma, Journalist, India
  30. Mandira Nayar, Journalist, India
  31. Samir Gupta, IT Businessman, Delhi
  32. Aabida Ali, Political Organiser and Researcher, Pakistan
  33. Rehmat Merchant, Journalist, India
  34. Husnain Jamil Faridi, Activist, Pakistan
  35. Shuja Uddin, Filmmaker, US/Pakistan
  36. Vishal Sharma, Researcher and Peace Activist, Shimla, India
  37. Muhammad Waqas, Journalist,Pakistan
  38. Gurmehar Kaur, Journalist, USA/India
  39. Priyanka Singh, Activist, Delhi
  40. Saeed Ahmed Rid, Educator and Peace activist, Islamabad, Pakistan
  41. Anis Haroon, human rights, peace and women’s rights activist, Karachi
  42. Dr Haroon Ahmed Syed, President, Pakistan Association of Mental Health
  43. Arif Hasan, town planner and architect, Karachi

Physicians

  1. Yousaf Shaikh, MD, President Association of Pakistani Physicians of New England, APPNE, USA
  2. Dr Amna Buttar, geriatrics hospitalist, New York
  3. Dr Amit Shah, Internist and Integrative physician, Charlotte, North Carolina/Gujarat, India
  4. Zakia Alavi, MD, Michigan, USA

India Pakistan Soldiers Peace Initiative (IPSI)

  1. Amin Niak,Secretary, IPSI
  2. Admiral L Ramdas, Former Chief of Navy Staff India and Magsaysay Awardee, Patron IPSI

SAPAN network

  1. Aruna Roy, Activist, MKSS
  2. Nikhil Dey, Activist, MKSS
  3. Ayesha Kabir, Journalist
  4. Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker, Mumbai
  5. Dr J Ravikumar Stephen G, Founder, Peace Coalition of the People of South Asia
  6. S.G. Vasudev, Artist, India
  7. Radha Kant Saxena, Human Rights Worker 
  8. Manoj Dhakal, Public Health Professional, Nepal
  9. Pawan Bali, former journalist from India, Conflict Resolution and Communication Consultant, Washington D.C
  10. Neel Kamal, Principal Correspondent,The Times of India, Bhatinda
  11. Shanta Dixit, Educator, Nepal
  12. Noor Pamiri, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, based in NYC. Co-Founder Pamir Times
  13. Ritu Dewan, economist
  14. Sehba Sarwar, writer, educator, community organizer, USA/Pakistan
  15. Nandita Ghosh, academician based in USA
  16. Tanvir Amir, Stardom Entertainment, USA
  17. Youton Lama, Development Consultant, Nepal
  18. Sandesh Dhakal, Academician,Tribhuvan University, Nepal
  19. Rajendra Senchurey, Policy Research Analyst, Nepal
  20. Abdul Sahim Ansari, Climate Change Expert, Nepal
  21. Anand Kulkarni, Development Worker, India
  22. Sahil Laul, Human Rights Filmmaker, University of Connecticut, Connecticut, USA
  23. Khyam Bishwokarma, Freelancer, Nepal
  24. Riaz Hussain Channa, Social Activist, Sindh
  25. Sana Durrani, Visual Artist and Art Restorer, Lahore, Pakistan 
  26. Zoraiz Riaz, Musician, Lahore
  27. Rahul Goswami, Social Worker, Delhi
  28. Sumaiya Afreen, Social Worker, Delhi
  29. Vinish Nandwani, Social Worker, Delhi
  30. Sajidah Ahmad, writer, UK
  31. Rejina KC, PhD Scholar, Kathmandu University
  32. Suman Mandal, Teacher, Nepal
  33. Faisal Ahmed, Lawyer, UK
  34. Amir Siddique, social worker, Ummeed, India
  35. Devender Sharma, Assistant Professor at Sanjauli College, Shimla, India
  36. Aagam Sharma, PhD Scholar, Himachal Pradesh University Shimla, India
  37. Waqas Nasir, Lahore Pakistan
  38. Tula Raj Sunuwar, Nepal
  39. Vinay Nagaraju,New Delhi, India
  40. Swati Sharan, Hamilton, ON, Canada
  41. Rupa Joshi, Kathmandu, Nepal
  42. Chhatrapati Singh, Nepal
  43. Iswar Atreya, Kathmandu, Nepal
  44. Aisha Gazdar, filmmaker, Pakistan
  45. Savana Pradhan, OBGYN, Nepal
  46. Sudha Reddy, India
  47. Samuel Rupesh Rajkumar, Chennai, India 
  48. Ramnik Mohan, former Associate Professor, currently freelance, Rohtak, India
  49. Tak Bahadur Tamang, Activist, Nepal
  50. Abdul Shah, Islamabad, Pakistan
  51. Abdullah Zahid, journalism student, Karachi, Pakistan
  52. Jean Dreze, economist, Ranchi, India
SIGN THE RESOLUTION

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