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March 27, 2020

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South Asia could learn from China

China’s successful containment of COVID-19 can be explained in multiple dimensions: commitment of the leadership, people’s resolution, developed health services and innovative diagnostic system.

Across the globe, however, the outbreak has already become a pandemic.

As a result of limited health budget, many developing countries primarily rely on foreign aids and technical support, and their fragile health infrastructure could easily be overwhelmed in the case of an outbreak.

South Asia is home to a quarter of the world’s population.

As a large number of people here are in impoverished living conditions, some with an income of less than US$1 per day. Worse, in these countries, where diseases break out more often, less than 3.6 percent of GDP is spent on health, far below the global average. As such, infectious diseases are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in these countries.

Therefore early warning systems and the ability to respond timely to a outbreak are critical but challenging for these countries.

In the case of the current COVID-19 outbreak, making basic personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves available to a vast population can be a real challenge. WHO has already warned about the chronic shortage of such PPE worldwide, and calls for concerted efforts.

And many South Asian countries lack technical expertise and advanced biomedical facilities.

Given inadequacies there, and China’s successful containment effort, it is important to know whether there is any roadmap of cooperation existing between China and South Asian countries. Indeed, China is playing an important role in global health cooperation under its Belt and Road Initiative that really benefits developing countries.

China has already provided a huge number of diagnostic kits for the detection of COVID-19 to Pakistan.

Moreover, to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in Iran, the Chinese government has also sent groups of experts to help with the control of the epidemic.

Alongside this, it is a good opportunity for South Asian countries to learn from China’s success.

Meanwhile, other countries need to upscale their financial and technical assistance to South Asian countries.

More robust regional cooperation is required to effectively stem the spread of the virus. All countries should encourage preparedness and improve health-monitoring systems to predict, identify and respond to future public health crises.

Hence the importance of enhanced international collaborations, partnerships and communications.

The author is a visiting scholar at Fudan Development Institute, Fudan University, and a TWAS-research fellow from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


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