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Health ministers commit to practical action on UHC

22 May 2017

Commonwealth health ministers concluded their one-day meeting on Sunday with agreements on universal health coverage, global security and violence prevention.

They committed to practical actions which included mobilising political commitment by heads of government for universal health coverage to be a national priority; making the economic case for investing to accelerate the achievement of universal health coverage; and support for workforce training on emergency planning, preparedness and response.

More than 200 ministers, senior officials and observers attended the annual Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM), which takes place each year in Geneva ahead of the World Health Assembly.

The 2017 meeting was chaired by George Pamboridis, Minister of Health for Cyprus under the theme Sustainable Financing of Universal Health Coverage as an Essential Component for Global Security including the Reduction of All Forms of Violence. He commended the meeting to ministers as a unique platform for deliberating and sharing experiences and mutual learning. “It is a way to accelerate the pace to meet the relevant target of the Sustainable Development Goals, in order to secure the highest standard of health to our populations as a fundamental human right.”

In her opening address, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “Universal health coverage resonates deeply with our Commonwealth Charter’s values and principles of promoting access to affordable health and removing wide disparities and unequal living standards as guided by internationally agreed development goals.

“Our challenge is how to ensure that every Commonwealth citizen, male or female, young or old, rich or poor, has access to the good quality healthcare they need, when they need it, without suffering a catastrophic financial burden.”

The keynote speaker was Professor Mark Bellis, an international expert on public health and violence prevention. Professor Bellis of Public Health Wales told delegates: “The annual cost of violence to the global economy is estimated at US$13.6 trillion and is one of the largest barriers to economic development. Health has a critical role in the prevention of violence.”

Professor Bellis offered recommendations to ministers, including a Commonwealth plan to tackle all forms of violence; addressing the role of gender in violence; developing resilience and positive identities in young people; and action to tackle poverty and inequalities.

Delegates also heard regional perspectives from Africa, on pooled procurement of essential medicines; Asia on experiences of universal health coverage; the Caribbean, on the crisis of non-communicable diseases; Europe on country collaboration; and the Pacific region on community ownership, choice and change in health.

At the meeting, ministers had the opportunity to participate in roundtable discussions on the theme and to report back to the plenary session. Their deliberations at CHMM will be conveyed in a Commonwealth Statement and another to the World Health Assembly

In closing, ministers heard from the three candidates standing for the position of World Health Organization Director (WHO) General, which will be decided this week. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus from Ethiopia, Sania Nishtar, from Pakistan, and David Nabarro, from the United Kingdom presented on their respective credentials for the UN leadership role.

Twenty-seven ministers attended the event, at which delegations from 38 countries participated. There were 225 delegates overall, including observers.