Intended for healthcare professionals


South Asian health: what is to be done?

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 01 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:837

SAARC: regional cooperation for sustainable health

  1. Sania Nishtar (sania{at}, president
  1. Heartfile, 1 Park Road, Chak Shahzad, Islamabad, Pakistan

    EDITOR—The grouping of seven South Asian countries in the framework of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC, (figure) presents a sizeable opportunity for regional collaboration.

    Seven countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

    The SAARC region has one of the poorest health indicators in the world—it houses the largest number of people with micronutrient deficiencies and diabetes; carries 40% of the world's tuberculosis burden, and has a high burden of cardiovascular diseases and one of the worst indicators for reproductive health in the world. In addition, issues of rural health, risks posed by close contact with animal population and high prevalence of zoonotic diseases, highlight issues of a regional nature that could be amenable to locally tailored public health strategies.

    Efforts are under way to forge partnerships in the health sector domain.1 2 However, the potential within collective regional efforts for sustainable health outcomes remains largely unexplored.

    SAARC, as a regional instrument, has both the mission and mandate to facilitate mechanisms that can contribute to achieving sustainable health outcomes and provides a practical platform for strategic actions. The environment for regional cooperation presently appears conducive.3

    However, sustained political orchestration efforts with active support and intermediation of international health agencies and donors is critical to protect SAARC within a social sector context, from the repeated hostage-like conditions it has fallen into since coming into being 18 years ago. The role of non-government organisations with regional health mandates and links with government such as Heartfile, which have previously played a part in health initiatives under the SAARC framework,4 can be important in this regard.


    • Competing interests None declared.


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