Speaking at the 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Southeast Asia (WHO-SEARO), Vardhan said “I am very happy to announce that India will contribute $2,00,000 towards implementation of the preparedness stream under the South East Asia Health Emergency Response Fund (SEARHEF), and we will release this support at the earliest.” Vardhan also joined health ministers from other WHO-SEARO nations in signing the Delhi Declaration on Emergency Preparedness.
The news comes at a time where environmental catastrophes are becoming the norm, including in India. This year has witnessed severe flooding caused by torrential monsoon rains in multiple Indian states, including Assam, Bihar, and Kerala, leaving hundreds dead and millions displaced. In these events, vigilance is needed to ward against the spread of infectious diseases including vector-borne and water-borne ailments. Infectious diseases are of particular concern to those in relief camps, where close confines provide ample opportunity for infections to spread.
Vardhan highlighted the importance of such preparedness, using Cyclone Fani as an example. India’s response to the disaster was praised by many; swift evacuation procedures were credited for greatly minimising the loss of life in the storm. Vardhan noted steps taken to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks also. “Special surveillance was mounted for early detection and control/containment of vector-borne and waterborne diseases,” he said. “There had been no outbreak of epidemic prone disease following Cyclone Fani.”
India’s contribution to the fund comes as welcome news, marking a substantial step towards international co-operation in the face of an increasingly unstable climate. One hopes that, going forward, co-operative measures will also be enacted to tackle environmental concerns such as climate change to which many attribute the increasing number of natural disasters. Irrespective, preparedness is key.
“The earlier concept of disaster risk-mapping is rapidly getting blurred with large sections of hitherto unexposed population getting vulnerable to natural and man-made hazards,” Vardhan said. “This calls for requisite systems strengthening. For a country this large, addressing multiplicity of hazards is a critical challenge.”