A Deep Dive into the Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting and the World Health Assembly 2023
The annual Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting (CHMM23) was held in Geneva on 20th May 2023, the weekend before the 76th World Health Assembly (WHA76). Both events brought together government ministers, key experts and civil society from across the world to discuss tackling global health challenges.
Being an active participant to the build up of CHMM23, representing the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association (CPA) alongside my colleagues Meghna Joshi-von Heyden (Strategic Lead: Partnerships and Advocacy) and Raymond Anderson (CPA Trustee and past president), enabled us to advocate for key issues aligned to the charity’s own vision and strategic goals.
This culminated in several priority issues being included in the ministerial statement, notably the need to take urgent action on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and support the high level United Nations meeting in 2024, as well as strategies to improve access to medicines and a call to collective action to tackle substandard and falsified medicines (SFMeds).
Active Participation and Advocacy Efforts
This year the CPA collaborated with the Brazzaville Foundation to present a paper on SFMeds and crafted a statement, which was delivered by the Togolese Health Minister, including a call to action through encouraging countries to sign the Medicrime Convention. Our collective action around this cause demonstrates the potential created through the advocacy space created for civil society through the Commonwealth, and underscores the severity of the issue and the necessity for worldwide awareness and action.
Collaboration for Addressing Substandard and Falsified Medicines
A persistent theme throughout the CHMM23 was the issue of access to medicines. The deputy prime minister from Malta highlighted the disparity in medicine pricing and medicine shortages as ongoing challenges, particularly for small countries. This sentiment was echoed by representatives from Mauritius and the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, who initiated a discussion on the information and price sharing database initiative that the CPA were leading the deployment of. The push to invest in local manufacturing capacity in order to create more resilient supply chains continued to be a key topic of discussion, Barbados shared its ambitious plans to increase local manufacturing capacity, and several other nations, including Trinidad, Tonga, Jamaica, Guyana, Botswana, and Malaysia, echoed the need for equitable access to vaccines, regional collaboration, and investment in local manufacturing of medicines.
Addressing Disparities in Access to Medicines
Countries such as Singapore and Ghana reiterated the importance of addressing Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and affirmed commitments to Universal Health Coverage (UHC), emphasizing the essential role of primary health care and the need for access to safe medicines as a key part of these initiatives. The CPA past president Mr Raymond Anderson took part in a WHA side event hosted by the 10th Global Patients Congress, where his presentation emphasized the essential role of pharmacists in progressing UHC.
Highlighting the Importance of Tackling Non-Communicable Diseases
The event also provided an opportunity to reconnect face to face with colleagues from the Commonwealth Health and Professions and Partners Alliance (CHPA), where we discussed potential future collaborations around training of carers and reaffirmed our collective commitment to improving the health and well being of citizens of the Commonwealth. Recommendations from the virtual Commonwealth Civil Society Forum in April were presented by the immediate past president of the Commonwealth Medical Association (CMA) Prof Vajira Dissanayake, which included collaborative approaches to tackling SFMeds, demonstrating the unanimous commitment to this pressing issue. All of the recommendations made encouragingly were taken up into the ministerial statement.
Engagement and Collaboration with Health Professionals and Partners
The Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN) ran a side event raising the profile of the importance of investment in mental health for young people of the Commonwealth. The panel included a young pharmacist from New Zealand and facilitated dialogue between young people and Health Ministers, culminating in a call to action. More than 60% of the Commonwealth’s population are under 30 years old and the Commonwealth has recognised the importance of young people through dedicating this year as the Year of Youth. The event created an opportunity for the CPA to discuss collaborative opportunities with the CYHN moving forwards.
Conclusion: Networking and Collaborating for Global Health Solutions
One of the major highlights of both meetings was the face-to-face interactions with colleagues, after a significant period of remote meetings due to the pandemic. It was invigorating to be physically present with experts from a multitude of different organizations, many of whom we had only previously interacted with virtually, discussing pressing matters and collaboration opportunities around our work on AMR, SFMeds and the pharmacy workforce.
In conclusion, CHMM23 and WHA76 offered exceptional platforms for networking, knowledge sharing, and collaboration towards tackling global health challenges. The CPA, together with the collective efforts of all participants, will continue its unwavering commitment towards overcoming these hurdles and progressing UHC for all citizens of the Commonwealth.
Chief Executive Officer, Commonwealth Pharmacists Association.
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