The World Health Organisation today convened a meeting of member countries, including Nepal, to discuss strengthening of collective efforts to control COVID-19 spread.

"Several countries continue to experience high transmission.

We are still very much in the acute phase of the pandemic.

We must continue to aggressively respond, using all tools at our disposal," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South- East Asia, opening the South- East Asia Partners' Meeting on COVID-19.

For five consecutive weeks, the region reported rapid surge of COVID-19, registering over two million new cases. Lives and livelihoods are at stake, as is the sustainable development of a region that is home to over two billion people - onefourth of the world's population.

It is only through solidarity, and by sustaining region-wide resolve, that we can drive infection down, prevent new waves, and bring evidence-based treatments and technologies to all who need them, the regional director said.

"There remains a clear and ongoing need in all countries of the region to strengthen health system capacity, including access to critical supplies such as oxygen," she said in a press release issued by New Delhi-based WHO South-East Asia Regional Office.

To fill those gaps, WHO, in recent weeks, provided over 340 metric tonnes of essential medical supplies worth over USD 50 million and continues to mobilise more, she said and emphasised the need for equitable distribution and availability of equipment and supplies.

According to her, WHO is committed to increasing supply chain resilience, including through local manufacturing to secure equitable access to therapeutics, diagnostics, personal protective equipment and other supplies.

On COVID-19 vaccine equity, the regional director said this demands extraordinary action and global collaboration.

While the development of COVID-19 vaccines has been exceedingly fast, the supply cannot currently meet demand.

This has resulted in a slowing down of vaccination in several countries, including those reliant on COVAX vaccine.

WHO will continue to support all countries to implement evidence-based public health and social measures; to enhance social and economic protections, and to maintain equitable access to essential health services - a core priority from the beginning of the response, which requires sustained and scaled up support.

Lauding the partners, Dr Khetrapal Singh said their support had enabled WHO to implement a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained response.

With assistance from partners, WHO in the region has been able to deliver over 2.2 million sample collection kits, 1.9 million manual PCR tests, 2.1 million gloves, seven million medical masks, more than 500,000 gowns, and 600,000 respirators since the start of the pandemic. This is in addition to their support to the South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund, which is being used to fund emergency preparedness as well as response measures in the region.

The meeting was attended by senior officials from ministries of health, ambassadors, UN regional directors, UN resident coordinators, representatives from international financial institutions and development banks; members of the Red Cross movement, GAVI the Vaccine Alliance, and The Global Fund; members of international NGOs, philanthropic foundations and partners.

"To all partners, my message today is one of steadfast solidarity, and steely resolve: Together, we must stay the course and see this challenge through," the regional director said, reiterating WHO's commitment to collaborate and coordinate to end this pandemic.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 4, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.