Commonwealth health ministers unite on post-COVID-19 health agenda – Reuters

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The 34th Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM) opened today with ministers calling on governments to build sustainable and resilient health systems that can withstand future crises and advancing universal health coverage (UHC) goals towards global health security.

Called under the theme ‘The Road to COVID-19 Recovery: Lessons Learned for Building Health System Resilience to advance UHC and Global Health Security in the Commonwealth’the meeting provides a forum for Ministers to assess current health challenges in the Commonwealth and discuss effective solutions and strategies, as the world recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the meeting, the Commonwealth Secretary General, the Right Honorable Patricia Scotland QC, said:

“The pandemic continues to be a deep crisis in our world. But as well as being a particular threat, COVID-19 has exposed the inherent weaknesses and inequities in our health systems – as a Commonwealth and as a global community.

“Even countries with the most advanced health systems have been forced to deal with severe disruptions to essential services and primary health care. For many low- and middle-income countries, these disruptions have been amplified and progress towards pre-pandemic commitments on pressing priorities such as malaria and neglected tropical diseases has been hampered.

“As we begin to look beyond the pandemic, we can see the need for more resilient health systems with more clarity than ever. We need to ensure that our health systems are well-prepared, well-resourced and flexible enough to absorb the shocks caused by health-related emergencies.

Scotland’s General Secretary also highlighted issues of health inequalities, which have been exacerbated during the pandemic. She specifically highlighted the challenge of equitable distribution of vaccines – although more than 1.3 billion people in the Commonwealth are fully immunized, more than 40% have yet to receive a single dose. In some of Africa’s least developed Commonwealth countries, immunization rates remain below 15%.

The Secretary-General has called for urgent efforts to vaccinate 70% of the population of each country – which was highlighted in a recent Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Secretariat and the World Health Organization (WHO).

In his opening speechWHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus echoed calls from Scotland’s Secretary-General, urging ministers and governments to build global consensus on strengthening the global architecture for preparedness, response and resilience to health emergencies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is not over anywhere until it is over everywhere,” said Dr Tedros, adding that “our biggest challenge now is to support the delivery of vaccines in the country” where almost a billion people worldwide are still unvaccinated – many of them in Commonwealth countries.

Reiterating WHO’s commitment to continue working with the Secretariat to help Commonwealth countries achieve their Sustainable Development Goals, Dr Tedros called on governments to:

  • Scale up COVID-19 vaccine deployment as quickly as possible to achieve 70% vaccination coverage
  • Prioritize strong and sustainable health financing, with a strong primary health care infrastructure accessible to all communities.
  • Reaffirm commitments to ambitious Commonwealth goals, in particular the elimination of malaria, trachoma and cervical cancer; and
  • Recommit to accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals

This year’s meeting is chaired by the Jamaican Minister of Health and Welfare, Hon. Doctor Christopher Tufton. In his opening address, the Honorable President said:

“Over the past two years, countries in the Commonwealth and around the world have experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event that has tested our abilities to ensure the sustainability of nation states. However, this crisis has also presented unique opportunities to support and strengthen our health systems.

The pandemic, which we are still experiencing, is a call to action for us in this generation to bring the needle closer to eliminating inequities in health service delivery.

The meeting also saw the launch of the Commonwealth Malaria Report 2022which will be debated by the ministers with a view to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the Kigali Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The new report provides an overview of the challenges and progress made in meeting malaria targets across the Commonwealth and important insights into trends in malaria interventions.

More than 150 delegates from 36 countries are attending the annual meeting, which resumes on May 19, 2022 with high-level and breakout sessions aligned with the Commonwealth COVID-19 Open-ended Technical Working Group on Managing the pandemic, digital health and sustaining health gains.

-ENDS-

Notes to Editors

About the Commonwealth Secretariat:

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal sovereign states. Our combined population is 2.5 billion, more than 60% of whom are 29 years of age or younger. The Commonwealth Secretariat helps member countries build democratic and inclusive institutions, strengthen governance, and promote justice and human rights. Our work contributes to growing economies and boosting trade, national resilience, empowering young people and tackling threats such as climate change, debt and inequality.

For more information on the Commonwealth, visit https://thecommonwealth.org/

Follow the Secretariat on Twitter and Facebook: @commonwealthsec

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