Islamabad: Pakistan on Thursday called a meeting of SAARC countries on COVID-19, claiming it to be a ministerial conference, but later it turned out that only official-level dignitaries participated at the forum.
Pakistan claimed in its press release, issued by the Foreign Ministry, that Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Minister for Health and Indigenous Medical Services of Sri Lanka, participated in the SAARC Health Ministers’ meeting. However, it was Deputy DG Public Health Dr Paba Palihawadana who represented the island nation.
All member states, including India, sent their representatives at the official level to take part in the meeting. The bloc’s Secretary-General, Esala Ruwan Weerakoon also participated in the virtual conference.
“Issues including real-time sharing of information and clinical data, capacity building and training of medical and paramedical staff, supply of medicines and medical equipment, research coordination and enhancing cooperation with front line international organisations including the WHO came under discussion,” the Foreign Office said in the statement.
“Proposals to fast-track creation of linkages among medical universities, academia and research institutions came under review… It was agreed to enhance cooperation in the health sector, particularly in the context of efforts to combat the virus at the regional level,” it added.
On March 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a video conference with SAARC leaders where he initiated a COVID-19 emergency fund for the regional block with an initial offer of USD 10 million for the fund.
All other SAARC nations had promptly donated to the COVID-19 emergency fund except Pakistan, which was the last among the eight members of the bloc to contribute to COVID-19 emergency fund. Islamabad pledged USD 3 million to the fund.
In response, India earlier this month highlighted the “early commitment” made by other member countries and said the ‘degree of seriousness’ of each nation can be gauged by its behaviour.
“It is for each SAARC member state to decide on the timing, manner and implementation of their SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund commitments. Where India is concerned, the commitment made by the Prime Minister is today in an advanced stage of implementation,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in a statement on April 10.
“Assistance in material and services has been extended to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. These SAARC countries have also made early commitments to the fund. The degree of seriousness of each nation can be gauged by their behaviour,” he stated.