Bangladesh hosts South Asian health ministers

Health ministers and senior health officials from seven South Asian nations were meeting Wednesday in the Bangladeshi capital to discuss regional health issues, with focus on AIDS and bird flu.

Launching "a regional strategy on HIV and AIDS will be high on the agenda," Bangladesh Health Minister Khondakar Mosharraf Hossain told reporters ahead of the meeting in Dhaka.

AIDS is pandemic in India, South Asia's most populous country, while outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of bird flu have been reported in India and Pakistan.

During a November summit in Dhaka, seven South Asian leaders agreed to set up a health surveillance center to fight the threat of a bird flu pandemic. But details of the center were yet to be worked out.

Mosharraf said the ministers will exchange views and identify regional collaboration on health policy matters, such as initiating a regional strategy to provide basic health care services and sanitation in rural areas.

Most of South Asia's 1.3 billion people live in villages on less than a dollar a day, and have little access to primary health care or sanitation, including clean drinking water, according to official statistics.

The ministers will also discuss regional cooperation in harmonizing standards, exchanging medical expertise, producing affordable medicines and exporting pharmaceuticals, including traditional remedies.

Health ministers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives are attending the meeting, while Nepal is represented by a senior health ministry official, reports the AP.

I.L.