The Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM), held on 20 May 2018, provided an opportunity for member countries to share their experiences and lessons learned, as well as build consensus around collaborating to enhance the global fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs). It also addressed suggestions for effective funding models for universal healthcare (UHC).

Civil Society Forum

Working in collaboration with members of the Commonwealth Health Professions Alliance (CHPA), and in partnership with Oxfam GB, the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association (CPA) contributed to a successful Civil Society Forum (CSF) on the eve of the annual CHMM in Geneva.

The Forum entitled ‘Universal Health Coverage (UHC): holding countries to account’ followed on from discussions hosted by civil society on the same topic during the previous month at the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF). The afternoon saw seven speakers delivering thought-provoking presentations before engaging in lively discussions with delegates from all over the Commonwealth. The working descriptor for the session was:

‘everyone agrees UHC is a good thing, and governments have committed to UHC as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But UHC cannot be achieved without sustainable financing, a sufficient health workforce, and equitable access to safe, quality, and affordable medicines for every citizen’.

The CPA co-ordinated the health workforce section of the afternoon’s programme. Seven recommendations drafted after the CPF in London the previous month were further refined as a result of expert input and discussions. These were presented by the CHPA to the Commonwealth Health Ministers at CHMM the following day.

The CHPA also conducted a survey via their networks to request feedback on these recommendations from a wider audience. As a result of this, further refinement was achieved and the CPA was delighted that recommendation three (below) specifically referenced the need for governments to not only address ‘access to effective, quality and affordable essential medicines’ but also recognised the essential role pharmacy plays in this aspect of achieving UHC by specifically highlighting the need to invest in developing a ‘sufficient pharmacy workforce’:

 Recommendation 3: that Commonwealth governments include in their UHC plans strategies for:

  • Access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for their populations
  • Building capacity through education and training for a sufficient pharmacy workforce
  • Developing public procurement policies using public financing

Thank you to everyone that responded to our requests to answer the survey – your collective voice certainly made an impact and strengthened our advocacy efforts. We look forward to the next steps in these discussions. The full set of recommendations and presentations from the CPF are available on the CHPA website. ( www.chpa.co )

Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting

The theme for the CHMM this year was, ‘Enhancing the global fight against NCDs; raising awareness, mobilising resources and ensuring accessibility to UHC’. The meeting began with opening remarks by the Chair, Hon. Rosy Sofia Akbar, Minister of Health, Fiji and the Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General. Following this, Mrs Graça Machel DBE, co-founder of The Elders delivered the keynote, where she referred to the ‘fundamental right of health and well-being for all’, as an essential component for vibrant communities and the development of nations. After lunch Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organisation Director-General continued these discussions in the same vein, focusing on the importance of Commonwealth collaboration in enhancing the global fight against NCDs in the context of UHC.

The Commonwealth Health Ministers engaged in discussion and debate throughout the day around challenges affecting their nations as they strive to make SDG3 and UHC a reality for their populations. There was particular emphasis on measures to encourage environments where healthy diets and exercise would promote wellness and help tackle the NCD epidemic through prevention.

The UK’s Secretary of Health and Social Care, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt reiterated the British government’s commitment to health outlined in the 2018 CHOGM Communique, part of which was directly linked to and provided a basis for the programme of the CSF the previous day:

‘Commonwealth Heads agreed to achieve compliance with International Health Regulations, accelerate UHC, including through sustainable financing, strengthening health systems and integrated services which promote prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. Heads also recognised the need to tackle antimicrobial resistance and noted with concern the proliferation of substandard and falsified medical products which contribute to antimicrobial resistant and drug resistant infections.’

The CPA were most encouraged that our advocacy efforts leading up to CHOGM were reflected in the commitment of CHOGM to tackle both AMR and the rise of substandard and falsified medicines.

The full CHOGM Communique can be viewed here. The full statement from CHMM will also be available on the Commonwealth’s website shortly.

Victoria Rutter is Executive Director at the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association. 

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