Commonwealth health ministers pledge to work together to transform health care systems
Commonwealth Secretary General, Patricia Scotland (front centre) poses with Caribbean and their health ministers from the Commonwealth.

GENEVA, CMC – Caribbean Community (Caricom) health ministers have joined their Commonwealth counterparts in reaffirming their commitment to achieving universal health coverage (UHC) and ensuring the most vulnerable and marginalised have equal access to health services across the 56 member countries by 2030.

They made the pledge during the 35th Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM) held here over the last weekend, where they also agreed to work together to accelerate efforts to achieve UHC by 2030, in line with the United nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recognising that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused setbacks to hard-won UHC gains.

Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland said that if countries learned anything from the pandemic, is that investing in health for all is not optional , but essential.

“Despite the Commonwealth making significant progress on universal health coverage before 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of many of our health systems and significantly eroded our hard-won health gains, putting the delivery of universal health coverage in the Commonwealth at risk…

“We need to convert our focus and urgency into hard-headed action right now. If we fail, we risk losing the impetus to transform our health systems for the better,” the Dominican-born Scotland warned.

The meeting also highlighted that the increasing daily threats of climate change continue to have an impact on the health of countries, their communities and their loved ones, and this needs collaborative action from all across health, finance, environment and climate ministries

The ministers agreed on a Ministerial Statement containing commitments to collaborate on efforts to monitor progress and share expertise on strengthening primary health care (PHC) services; leverage increased investment for digital innovations to improve population health.

They also pledged to work jointly with Commonwealth finance ministers to identify innovative and sustainable funding solutions for health systems.

They acknowledged the significant capacity shortages of health workers to ensure quality services are delivered at the PHC level, and agreed to build multi-sectoral partnerships in areas including training and to address international migration.

They also agreed on priorities for accelerated action to address the increased burden of mental health conditions in the Commonwealth, particularly amongst children and youth, as well as promising to collaborate on strengthening country pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, including investing in sustainable manufacturing capacity, and to address climate change threats through an integrated and evidence-based agenda.

A statement issued by the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat said the organisation has long advocated for the realisation of UHC, with efforts being made to ensure equitable access to medicines, sustainable financing, global health security, healthy ageing, and a reduction in noncommunicable diseases, in successive meetings.

Some 75 per cent of the projected health gains from the SDGs can be achieved through primary healthcare systems, including saving over 60 million lives and increasing average global life expectancy by 3.7 years by 2030, according to the UN.

The ministers also noted progress has been made on the commitments by Commonwealth leaders to halve malaria by 2023 and to eliminate blinding trachoma across member countries.

Despite the disruption to elimination efforts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people affected by trachoma, across 22 of the Commonwealth’s 54 countries, is falling rapidly. In 2020, just over 24 million people across the Commonwealth were at risk of trachoma, down from 42 million in 2018.

The ministers also promised to work together to address noncommunicable diseases and mental health challenges by promoting multi-sectoral coordination, utilising sport and physical activity and promoting healthy diets.

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