nCa News and Commentary
Turkmenistan and WHO hosted jointly on 8 October 2021 in Ashgabat an international conference on the theme ‘Health Diplomacy is the foundation of a healthy world.’
It was held in a hybrid physical-virtual format. The WHO delegation that had arrived for the event was led by Dr. Hans Kluge, the director of the WHO regional office for Europe.
The plenary session featured the message to the conference participants by President Berdimuhamedov and the keynote address by Dr. Hans Kluge.
The second session covered various aspects of medical diplomacy as is evident from the topics of some speeches:
- The role of medical diplomacy in the progress in fight against infectious diseases
- Conducting vaccination against Covid-19 and ensuring universal access to vaccines to achieve universal health coverage; the main role of COVAX mechanism
- The role of International Health Regulations as a response to Covid-19 pandemic
- The role of digital system in public health
In the third session, the top healthcare officials from 16 countries shared their experience in dealing with the pandemic.
- Nurmuhammet Amannepesov, the minister of healthcare and medical industry of Turkmenistan,
- Egor Zaitsev, WHO representative in Turkmenistan
- Katherine O’Brien, director, immunization, vaccine and biological, WHO HQ
- Rinat Maksyutov, director general, FBRI state research centre of virology and biotechnology VECTOR, Rospotrebnadzor, Russian Federation
- Dorit Nitzan, regional emergency director WHO regional office for Europe
- Hani Eskandar, senior coordinator, digital services, International Telecommunication Union
- Clayton Hamilton, regional advisor on digital health at the WHO regional office for Europe
- Miklos Kassler, Hungarian minister of human resources
- Alymkadyr Beishenaliev, minister of health of Kyrgyzstan
- Alla Nemerenko, minister of health of Moldova
- Fahrettin Koca, minister of health of Turkey
- Abdukhakim Khadjibaev, minister of health of Uzbekistan
- Zeljko Plazonic, state secretary of the ministry of health of Croatia
- Erlan Kiyasov, vice minister of healthcare, chief state sanitary doctor of Kazakhstan
- Viktor Gasimov, deputy minister of health of Azerbaijan
- Andrdi Baciu, state secretary of ministry of health of Romania
- Oleg Gridnev, deputy minister of health of Russian Federation
- Amirzoda Abduholik Amir, deputy minister of health and social protection of population of Tajikistan
- Igor Kuzin, deputy minister of health, chief state sanitary doctor of Ukraine
- Sladjana Corie, general director for health protection of Montenegro
- Clemens Mart Auer, special envoy for alt of Austria and vice chair of WHO executive board
- Klaus Parhofer, chairman of the Turkmen-German health forum, Germany
- Ambassador John S. MacGregor, head of OSCE Centre Ashgabat
Most of them participated through the video link and some of them sent pre-recorded messages.
In the last session the WHO and Turkmenistan jointly summed up the outcome of the conference.
Medical diplomacy and health diplomacy were used as interchangeable terms during the conference.
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The focus of the conference was on medical diplomacy. Simultaneously there was the attention on how Turkmenistan dealt with the threat of Covid-19 making any inroads in its territory.
In the context of medical diplomacy, it will be useful to see what Dr. Hans Kluge, the director of the WHO regional office for Europe had to say on the subject.
Here is the transcript of his interview to the Turkmen media site Turkmen Portal:
“First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Government and President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for organizing and holding the forum at a high level. As the Regional Director of the WHO European Office, I arrived in Turkmenistan on an official visit to participate in the International Forum of Medical Scientists “Health Diplomacy is the foundation of a healthy world”, as well as with the intention to contribute to the further development of partnership between Turkmenistan and the World Health Organization.
“Today, with the ongoing pandemic, it is very important to be able to gather around the same table, even in a virtual format, to share our accumulated knowledge, experiences and lessons learned. Only our common solidarity will help all of us in developing further actions aimed at countering the real threat to the modern international community. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges facing health diplomacy and global governance structures, but also highlighted our urgent need to fix them. I welcome this opportunity today to listen and share the lessons learned and wish all of us frank, friendly and fruitful discussions.
“We talked about this with President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. I was given the opportunity to meet and discuss very important initiatives with the head of the Turkmen state. An agreement was reached on joint work to develop the activities of the Regional Center for Epidemiology and Bacteriology, to continue cooperation in the Aral Sea crisis. We also agreed to develop our cooperation in improving the management of the healthcare system, its digitalization, as well as strengthening the primary care.
“In the near future, we are planning to conduct a special course on medical diplomacy. This is a very important topic today. Moreover, Turkmenistan will be the first country in the region where it will take place. In addition, WHO is interested in using the experience of Turkmenistan, which has the status of neutrality, in relations with Afghanistan. The experience of your country in the fight against noncommunicable diseases and how Turkmenistan promotes a healthy lifestyle is also indicative. In this regard, I want to emphasize that we are very grateful to President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for the initiative to establish World Bicycle Day.
“At the meeting with Mr. President, we also agreed to conduct a WHO technical mission in Turkmenistan in the near future to study the coronavirus genome, which will help improve our work within the framework of the International Health Regulations.
“In conclusion, I would like to congratulate all medical workers of Turkmenistan on the upcoming professional holiday. Thank you very much for your great work! I wish you good luck and good health!”
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President Berdimuhamedov had a meeting with Dr. Hans Kluge, the director of the WHO regional office for Europe on 8 October 2021.
During the meeting, among other topics, the Turkmen president briefly mentioned the steps the country has taken to prevent the outbreak of infectious and viral diseases.
Here is the summary:
- The national health programme Saglyk covers the activities for prevention, detection and treatment of various infectious diseases are steadily improving.
- Turkmenistan on an ongoing basis exchanges its accumulated experience with other countries, maintains close cooperation with the UN and its specialized structures, in particular WHO, participates in all international events related to health.
- In all corners of the country, new modern health houses of international level, specialized clinics, and enterprises for the production of medicines, equipped with innovative technologies, are being built.
- In addition, the head of state stressed, the necessary conditions are being created to strengthen and expand international cooperation. In this direction, reliable and long-term partners of our country are authoritative international organizations, primarily the World Health Organization, together with which important projects are being implemented.
- From the first days of spreading information about the emergence of a new infectious disease, the Government of Turkmenistan immediately responded to the impending danger and began to take effective preventive measures.
- With the active participation of the WHO Country Office in Turkmenistan at the state level, a Plan for Preparedness and Rapid Response of Turkmenistan in the event of coronavirus infection was developed and approved.
- Taking into account the comprehensive nature and negative impact of this disease on the states of the world, an Extraordinary Commission to Combat the Spread of Diseases was created in our country, at whose meetings important decisions were made and comprehensive preventive measures were planned.
- In order to prevent the penetration and spread of this dangerous infectious disease on the territory of Turkmenistan, a three-stage prevention system was created. — Thus, the departure of citizens abroad and the arrival of foreign citizens in our country, as well as flights on international routes, were temporarily suspended. On the state border of Turkmenistan, 9 checkpoints were created for the import into the country and transit of goods. Etrap and velayat observation points were established along the routes of the country’s railways, where preventive measures were taken.
- Also, the work of a two-stage medical control for citizens was established. This work continues at the present time. — At the first stage, citizens arriving from abroad take a PCR test, after which they remain under observation in quarantine zones created in the cities of Garabogaz, Turkmenbashi and Turkmenabat. At the second stage, citizens discharged from hospitals are in their homes for 14 days under the supervision of a family doctor.
- As part of strengthening measures to combat a particularly dangerous disease, all healthcare institutions are fully provided with the necessary medical equipment, protective equipment, test systems and disinfectants.
- At all checkpoints on the State Border, a round-the-clock duty of a commission has been established, which includes employees and specialists of the border, customs, medical and agricultural services.
- In all organizations, at a high organizational level, comprehensive disinfection and disinfection measures are carried out.
- A strengthened procedure for monitoring the quality and safety of food products imported into the country and used has been introduced. Control over the protection of reservoirs and water structures in the city of Ashgabat and velayats has been strengthened. In order to carry out laboratory control, water samples are constantly taken from sources.
- In all organizations and enterprises, in educational institutions, public places, retail outlets and markets, in all types of transport, in border zones and settlements, preventive measures, decontamination and disinfection are being intensively carried out.
- To contain people with symptoms similar to coronavirus infection, the construction of new quarantine centers has begun, and the profile of some health care institutions has been changed. In accordance with the aforementioned Plan, the necessary medicines and related medical equipment are purchased.
- Along with this, in our country, a general vaccination of the population with various vaccines is carried out, including the Russian “Sputnik V”. Other effective measures are being taken to increase the level of protection of people.
- Due to the timely measures taken, the penetration and spread of acute viral infection in our country was prevented.
- Actively joining the activities carried out by the world community, Turkmenistan has come up with a number of important initiatives aimed at consolidating international efforts to combat coronavirus and preparing mutually agreed responses to global challenges of our time.
- The head of state recalled that the Turkmen side made a number of constructive proposals. These include cooperation in the field of genomic medicine to study the nature and nature of infections; development of medical diplomacy; creation of the Central Asian Regional Center for Epidemiology, Virology and Bacteriology; etc.
The president said, “At present, in the period of the general fight against the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important for all states to coordinate their actions within the WHO framework as never before.”
He mentioned that so far more than 70% of the population had been vaccinated already against Coronavirus.
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nCa Commentary by Tariq Saeedi
The concept of medical diplomacy or health diplomacy has lately acquired somewhat negative connotations – the expression of soft power, verging on the borders of expression of somewhat harder version of power in the shape of national interests that are defiant of the well being of the mankind as a whole.
If the WHO, in partnership with Turkmenistan, can launch the drive to correct this somewhat warped concept of medical diplomacy or health diplomacy, it will be the biggest outcome from the conference of 8 October 2021. In fact, it will be one of the greatest gifts the mankind needs right now.
For instance, the travel restriction lists are not a way of making a political statement. Even if you don’t like a country but that country has made measurable headway in containing the coronavirus, there is no justification in banning the passengers from that country.
Also, is there any sense in approving some vaccines and ignoring others whereas it is not difficult to judge the efficacy of a vaccine in a lab and make the judgment on its own merits? In such case, what we are looking at is ‘vaccine patriotism,’ which is another name for blatant discrimination.
In the same category, setting the price of essential medicines and supplies to an artificially high level is a crude way of denying the benefits of medical science to those who cannot afford it. The countries and companies indulging in this practice need to ask themselves whether they deserve to be called civilized.
The secondary question they need to ask themselves is: Is the life of a little girl in the poorest village in Somalia and life of a little girl in the wealthiest suburb in Switzerland equal in value? The need examine their moral fabric closely for any holes if they even briefly pause before answering this question.
Dr. Hans Kluge, the director of the WHO regional office for Europe put his finger on the pulse of the issue.
He said, “Today, with the ongoing pandemic, it is very important to be able to gather around the same table, even in a virtual format, to share our accumulated knowledge, experiences and lessons learned. Only our common solidarity will help all of us in developing further actions aimed at countering the real threat to the modern international community. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges facing health diplomacy and global governance structures, but also highlighted our urgent need to fix them. I welcome this opportunity today to listen and share the lessons learned and wish all of us frank, friendly and fruitful discussions.”
In this context, he elaborated a bit on prospects of partnership with Turkmenistan.
He said, “We talked about this with President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. I was given the opportunity to meet and discuss very important initiatives with the head of the Turkmen state. An agreement was reached on joint work to develop the activities of the Regional Center for Epidemiology and Bacteriology, to continue cooperation in the Aral Sea crisis. We also agreed to develop our cooperation in improving the management of the healthcare system, its digitalization, as well as strengthening the primary care.
“In the near future, we are planning to conduct a special course on medical diplomacy. This is a very important topic today. Moreover, Turkmenistan will be the first country in the region where it will take place,” he added.
President Berdimuhamedov was in synch when he said, “At present, in the period of the general fight against the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important for all states to coordinate their actions within the WHO framework as never before.”
The highest walls in the world and the most stringent restrictions on travel cannot guarantee that the next mutation of the virus will not cross your borders. As mankind, either all of us are safe or none of us is safe.
This is the time to pay attention to what the WHO and Turkmenistan are saying about medical diplomacy. /// nCa, 9 October 2021 (picture credit – TDH, Turkmenportal, Ravilya Kadyrova)