Commonwealth Health Ministers summit “springboard for action”
Far-reaching measures that will drive up healthcare standards and improve the lives of millions of citizens have been agreed by Commonwealth ministers.
At the 30th Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting in Geneva, government representatives endorsed a series of proposals, including:
- 100 per cent smoke free public spaces
- a 20 per cent sugar tax on drinks
- immunisations for all girls aged 9-13 against cervical cancer by 2025
- one-stop crisis centres for victims of gender-based violence
- the creation of a Commonwealth Evidence Base for Cancer Control
- an acceleration of universal health coverage (UHC).
UHC will help to protect Commonwealth citizens from challenges such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – the central focus of this year’s health summit – which currently affect more than 400 million people across the 53 member countries.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said, “This year’s meeting enables us to focus on fully playing our part as the Commonwealth in mobilising to tackle the growing crisis of NCDs, which is causing devastation in all our member countries, and affecting with particular severity Small Island Developing States and low and middle-income countries.”
Urging ministers to be bold, she concluded, “If there is general assent and consensus, we will have a springboard for action on which we can build.”
NCDs account for around ten million deaths across the Commonwealth every year, with seven million of these due to the leading causes such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory disease and diabetes.
The Secretary-General went on to discuss gender-based violence, which is the greatest cause of morbidity and mortality in women, with 30 per cent of the female population worldwide having experienced it. Despite that, fewer than 40 per cent seek help or support.
Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom also addressed the annual meeting, commending countries for their efforts to address non-communicable diseases. However, he urged countries to step up their efforts to deal with one of the biggest NCD’s, mental health. Pointing out that many countries currently fall short in this area he said that, going forward, “mental health is key”.
It was agreed that the 2019 theme would be ‘Universal Health Coverage: Reaching the unreached, ensuring that no-one is left behind’.
A summary of some of the main commitments are as follows:
- Use existing model legislation for 100% smoke free public spaces.
- Raise taxes on tobacco products to 75% of purchase price and implement graphic warnings or plain packaging.
- Implement a 20% tax on sugar sweetened beverages in Commonwealth countries.
- Develop strategies for behaviour modification through public awareness campaign and education.
Commonwealth collaboration and collective action
- Ensure that by 2025 all girls aged between 9-13 years in the Commonwealth will have access to immunity from human papilloma virus (HPV) infection through vaccination.
- Establish a Commonwealth Evidence Base for Cancer Control that will provide faster access to the growing body of research into cancer.
- Support negotiation of a fair price for HPV vaccines, particularly the 9 Commonwealth Small States that do not currently have HPV vaccination programmes.
- Share pricing information through the creation of a Commonwealth database on the prices of essential medicines, vaccines and health technologies.
- Assess and review procurement legislation, medicine regulation and registration, with a view to harmonisation.
Sustainable financing of Universal Health Coverage
- Engage political actors at the highest levels, including Ministries of Finance to promote and advocate for UHC
- Develop national health financing plans that lay out how resources will be raised, pooled and distributed
- Identify opportunities for spending more and spending better on health through fiscal space analysis, service input gap analysis and resource tracking
- Strengthen coordination of external financing at country and international levels
- Strengthen coordination between domestic resource mobilisation, Development Assistance for Health and broader Overseas Development Assistance to ensure synergy and catalytic effect of Development Assistance for Health on Domestic Resource Mobilisation
- Introduce Country Financing Facility for health, in light of the success of Financing Facility for Immunisation
- Elimination of User-Fees at the point of care.
Health facility-based coordinated response to gender-based violence
- Harmonise the multi-sector programs led by the health sector to end GBV
- Establish health sector initiatives, in particular, one-stop centres to implement GBV programs within the UHC framework
- Set objectives, targets, milestones and time frames to end GBV and implement evidence-based interventions to combat GBV
- Take a multi-dimensional approach to addressing GBV, noting the link between Alcohol and Drug abuse as important drivers of GBV
- Options to improve, in particular, the capacity of SIDS to establish One-Stop centres for GBV.
The full communique can be found at www.thecommonwealth.org, specifically, http://www.thecommonwealth.org/sites/default/files/inline/FinalHealthMinisterialStatement2018.pdf
22 May 2018.