The momentum of the Millennium Development Goals enabled low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to achieve remarkable mortality declines over the past two decades.
Yet, for many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered this positive trend and has hampered health system capacity to deliver essential primary health services and expand access to new healthcare provisions. Globally, COVID-19 has put progress towards global and national health agendas at risk, including UHC and the SDGs.
However, Commonwealth countries have recognised the need to maintain focus on pre-pandemic commitments so that gains can be sustained in key public health priorities including HIV and AIDS, cervical cancer, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, neglected tropical diseases, avoidable blindness and malaria and other mosquito borne diseases.
The COVID-19 pandemic creates an urgency to turn rhetoric into action, and an opportunity to deliver health for all. In this context, there is a greater need for fostering global solidarity and multilateralism to emphasise the importance of health systems for global security. Commonwealth Health Ministers and Heads of Government have committed to address many of these challenges, with work underway to maintain efforts towards heath goals.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) all 53 Heads of Government committed to halving malaria across the Commonwealth by 2023.
When achieved, this “Commonwealth commitment” to halve malaria will save 650,000 lives, prevent 350 million cases of malaria, and set us on a path toward ending the world’s oldest and deadliest disease within a generation.
To help measure and visualise progress towards this Commonwealth commitment, a tracker was created through the support of technical partners: African Leaders Malaria Alliance, the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance, Malaria No More UK, the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and the World Health Organisation.
View our tracker to learn more about Commonwealth country progress to halve malaria.
Blinding Trachoma and Avoidable Blindness
Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness and thrives in areas where there is poor sanitation and limited access to water for personal hygiene. At the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Commonwealth member countries agreed to “take action towards achieving access to quality eye care for all, including eliminating blinding trachoma by 2020”.
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.
Access to quality eye health has progressed in every region since 2018. Commonwealth Governments in every region funded and partnered in the programmes of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium to strengthen government eye health services and develop the human resources that underpin them.
To learn more about efforts to address eye health and trachoma in the Commonwealth, please read our latest progress report.
Cervical Cancer Elimination
The Commonwealth is disproportionately affected by cervical cancer. Member countries account for 40% of global cervical cancer incidence and 43% of cervical cancer mortality (Adewole & Ginsburg, 2020) despite having only 30% of the world’s population. Within the Commonwealth, countries in the African region continue to shoulder the highest burden of cervical cancer.
In May 2021, Commonwealth Health Ministers committed to continue to take steps to ensure that by 2025 all girls in the Commonwealth have access to HPV vaccination by 13 years of age. They also called for the integration of cervical cancer services with existing primary care and public health services, in particular HIV services, and ensure that every woman has access to cervical cancer screening and cancer treatment throughout their life by 2030.
To support Commonwealth elimination efforts, the Commonwealth Secretariat joined forces with the Union for International Cancer Control to launch a new task force: The International Taskforce the Elimination of Cervical Cancer in the Commonwealth. The task force is chaired by Dr Miriam Mutebi, Board Member of UICC, Consultant breast surgical oncologist and Assistant Professor in Surgery at the Aga Khan University, and brings together experts from across the Commonwealth.
Health Sector Responses to Gender-Based Violence
Despite policies, laws, national strategies, institutional mechanisms and interventions, the rate of gender-based violence (GBV) is still high in the Commonwealth. Health sectors in many countries do not have the resources or capacity required to implement effective evidence-based interventions. At recent Health Ministers meetings, Health Ministers encouraged member countries to develop and implement relevant tools and toolkits to address GBV. This included a health sector toolkit to serve as a guide to prevent and respond to incidents of gender-based violence.
In keeping with the Commonwealth's commitment to the right to health, the Secretariat commissioned a study in 2017 to broadly investigate the extent to which the Commonwealth Member States have coordinated health facility GBV programmes. This study has been implemented in five Southern African countries, with plans to expand to other countries.