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Health security and universal coverage on the agenda of Commonwealth Health Ministers

20 May 2016



Health Ministers from across the Commonwealth will examine the state of global health security and emergency preparedness, and discuss pathways to achieving universal health coverage, at a conference in Geneva this weekend.

The Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting on 22 May 2016, which takes place on the eve of the World Health Assembly, will be opened by Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland and chaired by Canada’s Minister of Health, Jane Philpott. The keynote speaker is Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

The high-level forum will give Commonwealth Health Ministers the opportunity to develop a strategy to deal with the persisting threat of disease outbreaks, to share best practices and discuss how to improve their national health services.

A key theme will be 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 communities, and extremist violence.

In a video statement released for the meeting, Minister Philpott says she hopes to share Canada’s experiences with other Commonwealth governments in building health systems and implementing international health regulations.

“A strong universal healthcare system ensures that we can prevent, detect and respond to health threats, whether they originate from disaster, disease, or climate change. Health security threats are becoming more complex, more difficult to predict and more challenging to respond to,” the Minister said.

“We will also discuss the responses to the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean, the impact of climate change on the security of the Pacific Islands, and how African colleagues are enhancing their health systems in a post Ebola environment. By working together, we can share promising practices, foster innovation, strengthen our health systems, and ultimately enhance our overall global security.”

At the meeting, a new Commonwealth policy framework, entitled A Systems Framework for Healthy Policy, will be presented to Ministers. It is designed to help governments improve health services and speed progress towards universal coverage in all Commonwealth countries.

The framework is underpinned by a health protection policy toolkit which outlines action plans to help prevent and contain disease outbreaks such as the Ebola pandemic. The toolkit acts as a companion implementation tool for a new Global Charter for Public Health, developed by the World Federation of Public Health Associations.

During the meeting, Ministers will explore the ‘One Health’ approach, which promotes multi-sector health policy responses to address issues such as climate change, anti-microbial resistance, and infectious diseases.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who is opening the first major Commonwealth ministerial meeting since she took office on 1 April, said: “Having strong public health systems, with good infrastructures and solid health services can prevent or limit the impact of deadly outbreaks.”

“In this year when we are celebrating ‘An Inclusive Commonwealth’, it is appropriate that we should be examining holistic approaches, which can help improve the health and wellbeing of all our citizens.”

“Over recent weeks I have said many time that my priority as Secretary-General is to put the wealth into Commonwealth, and the common into wealth. We can also do more to put health into the Commonwealth. Health and prosperity are inextricably linked, and both are vital to implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

The theme of the meeting, which is convened by the Commonwealth Secretariat, is ‘Health Security and Access to Universal Health Coverage’. It is preceded by a Commonwealth Civil Society Forum on 21 May organised by the Commonwealth Foundation.