Yesterday saw the 28th meeting of the Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting held in Geneva. Chaired by the health minister of Canada Dr Jane Philpott, with government representatives from 34 Commonwealth countries, the meeting stressed the importance of bolstering their capacity to deal with public health threats and disasters through a focus on Global Health Security (GHS) and access to Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
Global efforts to achieve UHC are put at risk by threats to national health systems including recent virus outbreaks such Ebola and Zika, as well as climate change, Commonwealth Health Ministers have warned. “The recent outbreak of Zika, which has been confirmed in the Americas with the potential to reach new regions, highlights the need to strengthen health systems to ensure resilience,” the Ministers said a joint statement.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who gave the opening address, cautioned that more needs to be done to help countries learn the lessons of past shocks to health systems. “We have to recognise that none of us saw Ebola coming,” the Secretary-General said. “That crisis taught us that we need to be better at detecting and rapidly scaling up targeted prevention measures.” Responding to concerns about the financing of health services, the Secretary-General offered to convene a special meeting on ‘Making the Economic Case for Investing in Health Development’, together with Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
During the meeting, the Ministers discussed how health security can be a bridge to peace and stability, and how health outcomes are connected to policy-making across a wide range of areas, including disaster preparedness, climate change, families and all forms of violence.
Dr Chan, who gave the keynote speech, stressed the importance of increasing the capacity of frontline workers to prevent and control infections and ensure patient safety, noting that a lack of trust was the “big barrier to successful control” during the recent West African Ebola epidemic, which ravaged Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
She said: “The inclusion of an early warning to detect and respond to unusual events [must be considered] as an integral part of the healthcare system and not something tagged on as an afterthought.” The Commonwealth can play a “very prominent role” in helping countries to boost their health systems and achieve universal health coverage, she added.
The Ministers commended the Commonwealth Secretariat for developing a Systems Framework for Healthy Policy and a Health Protection Policy Toolkit, which will help governments to speed progress towards achieving universal coverage and prevent and contain disease outbreaks. “We welcome the use of multi-risk assessment, multi-sectoral and multi-national policy responses to address climate change, control infectious diseases, as well as enable sustainable policy that benefits social, environmental and economic well-being,” the Ministers said.
The governments welcomed the launch of the Commonwealth Health Hub, and noted a new Global Charter for the Public’s Health, developed by the World Federation of Public Health Associations. A video has been prepared to promote the health hub, which shown to delegates as they went into the meeting:
The representative for Malta will present the Commonwealth ministerial statement to the first day of the World Health Assembly (WHA) today. A live webcast of the WHA available at this link with the agenda for today available here.
The full text of the 2016 ministerial statment is available below