The Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) had a webinar on “The Public healthcare System and the COVID-19 Pandemic in South Asia” on 16th June at 3.00 PM.

More than 30 participants actively engaged in the discussion after the four panelists of the webinar made their lucid and well-informed Presentations. The panelists were:

  1. Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe Community Physician and Chief Epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka;
  2. Prof. Karori Singh, Former Director and Emeritus Fellow, South Asia Studies Centre, University of Rajastan, Jaipur, India;
  3. Dr. Nishchal Pandey, Director, Centre for South Asian Studies, Kathmandu, Nepal;
  4. Prof. Moonis Ahmer, Meritorious Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Karachchi, Pakistan.

Prof. Gamini Keerawella (Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya) the Executive Director of RCSS, moderated the webinar.

The main points emerged from the panel presentations and subsequent rich discussion can be summarized under fallowing points:

    1. The well-establish public health care system is one of the key foundations of the welfare state in South Asia , origins of which go back to pre-independence days.
    2. At the time of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the public healthcare system in South Asia was in the brink of a crisis for several reasons, due to the resources deficit on the one hand and the entering of the private sector into the system on the other.
    3. COVID 19 pandemic posed an unprecedented challenge to the public healthcare system in South Asia. However, at the initial stages, the system absorbed the shocks well and managed the pandemic quite successfully.
    4. However, when the 3rd wave of COVID hit the South Asian countries, the healthcare system is still struggling to control the pandemic.
    5. It seemed like, unlike during the earlier waves, during the 3rd wave the lack of planning became more visible that hampered mobilization of health care resources.
    6. Added to this, lack of coordination between and among institutions and agencies during the 3rd wave drastically and critically impacted the responses to COVID-19.
    7. It is noted in many South Asian countries that health care professionals within the system were sidelined in planning and implementation of the COVID-19 responses during the 3rd wave.
    8. In all the South Asian countries, there had been undue political intervention. As a result, some decisions on COVID responses were appeared to have made not on professional grounds, but on political grounds.
    9. The prolonging of the pandemic situation impacted on the economies of the countries, leaving the South Asian countries less immune to the economic shock brought forth by the pandemic. The governments were forced rather compelled to make decisions balancing the booth economies and the health considerations.
    10. The structural crisis that the South Asian states is accentuated by the pandemic. It is indeed a totalistic crisis.
    11. The discussion highlighted the need for an integrative health care approach to the pandemic. The integrative approach must integrate strengths and merits of  all  the health care system practices,  the western and the traditional non-western.  But it must be a rational approach.
    12. The post-COVID healthcare system should pay due attention to psychological needs of the people enabling them to recover from the psychological trauma that has created by the pandemic. The special attention should be given to children and youth who could be traumatized from not being able to focus on studies and missing their social life.
    13. Emphasis was also placed on the timely interventions by the civil society, addressing multi-faceted challenges posed by the pandemic. Considering the broader definition of civil society that does not include mere non-governmental organizations, the interventions of civil society could be more fruitful and useful along with the government interventions.
    14. The need to a regional approach was emphasized. The active role of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was seen as mandatory with the regional cooperation going beyond from strengthening bilateral ties at times of crisis like the COVID-19 Pandemic. The scholars highlighted the need to approach regional response similar to regions like European Union and ASEAN.