Commonwealth Health Ministers have issued a joint statement on post-COVID recovery efforts after the conclusion of their annual meeting. They agreed to work together on several key issues, including vaccine equity, building resilient health systems and strengthening health security through the use of digital technologies.
Today, Commonwealth Health Ministers concluded their annual meeting with the adoption of a joint statement setting out key priorities in addressing today’s complex health challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration commits them to work together to strengthen health security, immunization equity and increase investment in health to strengthen health systems resilience and advance universal health coverage (UHC) goals.
The commitment follows a two-day virtual high-level meeting chaired by Jamaica’s Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Christopher Tufton, where Health Ministers assessed the current health challenges in the Commonwealth, shared their national and regional experiences and discussed effective solutions and strategies to build stronger, sustainable and resilient health systems capable of dealing with future health emergencies.
The theme of this year’s meeting was The Road to COVID-19 Recovery: Lessons Learned for Building Resilience Health System to Advance UHC and Health Security in the Commonwealth.
In her closing remarks, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, The Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC said:
“Now more than ever we must work together with a unified purpose to advocate for post-Covid-recovery thinking and planning based on the principles of equity, fairness, inclusiveness and sustainability.
The challenges ahead can be solved if we commit to meaningful collaboration. This is the sole spirit of COMMONWEALTH, the belief that by working together and supporting one another, we can achieve more, faster, more effectively, and more efficiently.
Therefore, starting from this meeting, we must find ways to invest more resources in primary health care, the cornerstone of universal health coverage. We must focus on filling the fundamental gaps in primary health care to build recovery and resilience.
If we look [the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting]Can we agree that further investment is urgently needed to ensure our health systems can cope with short- and long-term shocks and outbreaks.”
Combating vaccination equity across the Commonwealth
In addition to posing a unique threat, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inherent weaknesses and inequities of health systems across the Commonwealth, particularly in vaccine distribution.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 11 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide. Only 1.3 billion people in the Commonwealth have now been fully vaccinated and 40 per cent of the Commonwealth’s population has yet to receive a single dose. And in some African countries, vaccination rates are below 15%.
With this in mind, ministers committed to working together to implement robust national measures to recover from the current pandemic and to prepare for and prevent future pandemics. They welcomed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with WHO that will help accelerate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, address immunization inequality, strengthen digital health systems, and advance universal health coverage (UHC) and global health security.
Ministers also recognized the urgent need to increase equity and accessibility of COVID-19 vaccination and accelerate it, and agreed to work together to advance the WHO goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population in each country by mid-2022.
The Chairman of the CHMM and Jamaica’s Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Christopher Tufton said:
“We must acknowledge that COVID-19 has revealed many significant gaps in public health governance at various levels: global, regional or national. These gaps were particularly evident on issues related to vaccines, vaccine nationalism, and the failure of multilateralism. in general.
Equity in health is a global development requirement. None of us in this 54-member Commonwealth can feel safe and secure when other countries are left behind. If countries lag behind, as we saw with COVID-19, there will likely be a delay in recovery for all countries. This problem requires bold leadership and visionary, purposeful action to contend with the instinctive, self-sustaining actions of a few.”
Building resilient healthcare systems and advancing UHC goals
Recognizing that health systems resilience is an essential pillar to support progress towards UHC and health security, consensus was to strongly encourage governments to urgently increase investments in health systems, including human resources, to build the resilience of the Strengthen health systems and response to the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery plans.
They also commend the work currently being done in international fora to strengthen the global health architecture, particularly work on preventing and responding to future pandemics. In doing so, ministers recognized that there will be a stronger and more inclusive architecture for preparedness, response and resilience to health emergencies.
They also reiterated their commitment to work together to maintain pre-COVID-19 pandemic gains related to sexual and reproductive health services (SRHS), HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other vector-borne diseases, poliomyelitis and neglected tropical diseases (NTD ).
With regard to the elimination of cervical cancer, Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to taking the necessary steps to ensure that by 2025 all girls in the Commonwealth up to the age of 13 have access to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
With regard to research, innovation and digital technology, Ministers recognized the fact that digital technology tools are a key enabler for the advancement of primary health care and that there is an opportunity to further develop digital health capacity in the Commonwealth. To that end, ministers agreed to explore how Commonwealth countries can foster greater collaboration and share knowledge on issues such as digital health leadership, interoperability and digital technologies.
We look forward to CHOGM
The 34th Meeting of Commonwealth Health Ministers came at a crucial time: on the eve of the 75th World Health Assembly and just four weeks before the twice-postponed Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Kigali.
In addition to the ministerial declaration, the ministers presented a number of important recommendations for discussion at the CHOGM. Ministers also noted the release of the Commonwealth World Malaria Report, which shows the Commonwealth is not on track to halve malaria cases and/or deaths by the end of 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and called for the Leaders, therefore, to reaffirm their commitment to this goal and to ending the malaria epidemic by 2030, in line with global and regional commitments. For this purpose, the Kigali Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases will take place on June 23, 2022 at the edge of the CHOGM.
The meeting was attended by health ministers, representatives of Commonwealth health professionals, civil society and development partners, as well as international and regional organizations such as the World Health Organization, Africa CDC, The Global Fund and observers.
Ministers will meet for the next Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting in 2023.
Read the ministerial statement
Notes for editors
About the Commonwealth Secretariat:
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal sovereign countries. Our total population is 2.5 billion, of which more than 60 percent are 29 years of age or younger. The Commonwealth Secretariat supports member countries in building democratic and inclusive institutions, strengthening governance and promoting justice and human rights. Our work helps to grow economies and boost trade, build national resilience, empower young people and address threats such as climate change, debt and inequality.
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