Dealing with pandemic-related woes and other public health issues has become a critical agenda for the member states of BIMSTEC over the last two years since the COVID-19 outbreak, a top official of the regional organisation said on Saturday. Sri Lanka has been identified as the lead country for coordinating and planning on public health matters, he said.

“COVID-19 made us realise that pandemics and health per say is an important agenda, and as a region, we have to come together.

“Before COVID-19, we were focusing more on trade, connectivity, energy, electricity and such sectors, but not much on health. However, now we have realised that health is also a very important component,” Tenzin Lekphell, BIMSTEC secretary general, told PTI.

He was speaking here on the sidelines of a two-day meet of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which has Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand as member countries.

Lekphell said the BIMSTEC’s 14 areas of cooperation have also been reformed by rationalising these into seven sectors and subsectors.

The main sectors in focus are trade and investment, technology, human resource development, tourism, agriculture, energy, and infrastructure and transportation.

Each member country has been given the mandate to lead a sector, thereby building ownership and ensuring better local cooperation, he said. “BIMSTEC holds much promise as a platform for cooperation; our institutions, mechanisms and legal frameworks are turning more concrete. Ministerial meetings and senior officials’ meetings are also increasingly getting more interactive, engaging and regular,” Lekphell said.

He also stated that a BIMSTEC ‘Energy Centre’ will come up in Bengaluru, where policy matters will be discussed and deliberated on, especially those related to energy and electricity.

“This centre will be inaugurated in June,” Lekphell added.

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