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CHOGM lookback: communicable diseases in the spotlight

1 May 2018

Last month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was a major opportunity for leaders to discuss some of the pressing health challenges facing member states.

With Presidents and Prime Ministers from across the 53 Commonwealth countries all in attendance at the biennial summit, issues such as communicable diseases were at the forefront of discussions. 

Speaking at an event that brought together the Business, People’s, Women’s and Youth forums Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, gave his views on the future of eradicating polio. In particular, he pointed to the challenges of tackling the disease in Commonwealth countries such as India, Nigeria and Pakistan. 

Mr Gates, whose work to tackle polio has seen the disease eradicated in Africa, said that there were other health challenges ahead that were specific to the Commonwealth, such as malaria, where the 53 member countries account for 90 per cent of the disease globally, which kills almost 450,000 people every year. 

His comments were echoed by Prime Minister Theresa May at the high-profile event inside London’s Queen Elizabeth II Centre. 

Health played a central role during CHOGM, and during the formal opening Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said the summit was a “springboard for action” for addressing such areas. Commenting on the benefits of Commonwealth collaboration, the Secretary-General identified reducing non-communicable diseases as a priority for the Commonwealth when she said, “Numerous examples show Commonwealth synergy accelerating progress (such as) to eradicate polio and malaria, and to reduce prevalence of non-communicable diseases.”

The contribution of leaders was a timely intervention ahead of this month’s Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM), which takes place in Geneva on 20 May. Held on the eve of the 71st World Health Assembly, this year’s meeting will bring together Ministers from across the Commonwealth to address non-communicable diseases, under the theme, ‘Enhancing the global fight against NCDs; raising awareness, mobilising resources and ensuring accessibility to Universal Health Coverage’.

The keynote speaker will be Graça Machel, co-founder of The Elders, an organisation which works to promote peace and human rights. Mrs Machel, widow of the late South African president Nelson Mandela, will address a number of issues such as Universal Health Coverage and healthcare funding.

Speaking ahead of CHMM Dr Mbololwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, health adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said, “In many Commonwealth countries, non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, are the leading causes of early death and disability. It was extremely encouraging that Secretary-General Patricia Scotland reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s commitment to tackling these diseases, and ministers will now have an opportunity to address these issues in detail at the forthcoming Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting.” 

2018 Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting