Taking lessons from the ongoing pandemic and emphasising a once-in-acentury opportunity, countries of the World Health Organisation South- East Asia region today adopted a Ministerial Declaration in a bid to strengthen the health system, ensure health security, achieve universal health coverage and attain the Sustainable Development Goals.

"Strong health system is concerned with primary health care that leaves no one behind and helps create healthier, more productive and financially secure populations. Resilient health system is the bedrock of emergency preparedness and response. It ensures that essential health services can be maintained when acute events occur," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of the WHO South-East Asia at a ministerial round table during the ongoing 74th Regional Committee meeting.

Through the Declaration adopted at the ministerial round table, the member countries, including Nepal, committed to provide political leadership and accountability to strengthen health security and make progress towards universal health coverage and health-related SDGs.

The member countries resolved to reorient the health system towards comprehensive primary health care through increased public investments so as to build the foundation for strengthening both public health emergency capabilities and achievement of universal health coverage.

"The pandemic has highlighted the urgency and importance of investment in human resource for health, especially at the primary health care level, and need to facilitate adequate supply of affordable, effective, quality and safe medical products to ensure an effective response to public health emergencies and build resilient health systems" the regional director said. The Declaration has also committed to focus on closer engagement and empowerment of communities in a bid to maintain the smooth delivery of essential health services and public health programmes during and after the pandemic.

To roll out effective response for atrisk and affected communities, the member countries have agreed to ensure integration of public health emergencies and disaster risk management strategies as well as strengthen surveillance and preparedness capacity at the primary health care level. Additionally, the member countries have decided to accelerate the integration of noncommunicable diseases, including mental health and other programmes, at the primary health care level and establish national quality standards for primary health care services in a bid to ensure access to quality health services during the pandemic and recovery phase.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 8 2021, of The Himalayan Times.