New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday held a high-level meeting through video conferencing with the World Health Organisation (WHO) officials on the measures to combat the coronavirus disease.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and WHO decided to initiate a systematic engagement of WHO’s national polio surveillance network, and other field staff, for COVID-19 response. The meeting was addressed by both Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and the Director of WHO South East Asia Region Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh.

Minister of State for Health Ashwini Kumar Chaubey was also present at the meeting. The meeting was attended by over 1,000 WHO staff including Polio, Tuberculosis and Neglected tropical diseases (NTD) field staff and other state officials.

“I believe that until we get a cure or vaccine we must adhere to the social vaccine called social distancing,” said Harsh Vardhan. The meeting aimed at strengthening COVID-19 response. “In the fight against COVID-19 we have entered a stage where surveillance is going to play a vital role in making future strategies for containment. For better forecasting and decision making for response to coronavirus pandemic,” said Dr Khetrapal during the address.

Dr Khetrapal said India has its unique challenges and also the capacity to overcome them, an example being elimination of polio in 2014. She complimented Harsh Vardhan for introducing several of the key polio elimination initiatives as Health Minister of Delhi in 1994.

The strengths of the National Polio Surveillance Project (NPSP team) – surveillance, data management, monitoring and supervision, and responding to local situations and challenges – will be utilized to supplement efforts of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Integrated Disease Surveillance program (IDSP) and The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to strengthen Covid-19 surveillance.

The WHO field staff will continue to support immunization and surveillance and elimination of TB and Neglected Tropical Diseases, the Regional Director said, adding, “disease outbreaks can negatively impact progress in a range of areas, from maternal and child mortality to vaccine-preventable diseases and other treatable conditions. India had been making stupendous progress in these areas and we cannot afford for India’s remarkable progress to be set back or reversed.” Dr Khetrapal said.

The NPSP team will also support in sharing information and best practices and help states and districts calibrate their response based on transmission scenarios and local capacities.

–IANS

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