The primary role of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Health Section is to assist member countries to develop and implement policies that reduce disparities and improve health outcomes for Commonwealth citizens.
We strive to do this through the promotion of universal health coverage in relation to addressing communicable and noncommunicable diseases, and other Commonwealth health priorities.
The Health Section covers four key areas of work as part of its new strategic plan for 2021-2025:
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of countries to the risks and consequences of health emergencies and disasters. In response to the pandemic, Commonwealth member countries have worked to develop and deploy national strategies to combat the virus, including enforcement of national lockdowns and travel restrictions, quarantine for international visitors and heightened public health messaging on personal preventive strategies.
At the 2021 Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting, member countries acknowledged the need to work collectively for a coordinated and effective COVID-19 response and recovery. Member countries also reiterated the importance of ensuring preparedness against future pandemics by strengthening global, regional and national public health security systems and through improving the implementation of International Health Regulations.
To address these issues, Health Ministers approved the formation of the Commonwealth COVID-19 Open-Ended Informal Technical Working Group (CTWG), which was then launched in May 2021. The CTWG aims to foster cooperation for the COVID-19 pandemic response through sharing information and best practices, in addition to building technical and R&D capacity across member states. It will also provide a forum for member countries to discuss current efforts towards strengthening global health security such as the Pandemic Preparedness Treaty and national activities to strengthen health systems resilience through UHC. Furthermore, the CTWG will review and advise the Commonwealth Secretariat on its overall COVID-19 pandemic response within the Commonwealth.
The COVID-19 Technical Working Group is comprised of three workstreams, namely:
- Effective Pandemic Management: Supporting to effectively manage national and international COVID-19 responses, with a particular focus on ensuring equitable vaccination programmes and building frameworks for pandemic preparedness and response.
- Strengthening Digital Health: Supporting to create and develop robust digital health initiatives in response to the pandemic to increase digital health maturity and capacity within Commonwealth member countries.
- Sustaining Health Gains: Supporting to maintain and increase gains in other key priority health areas during and post-pandemic, with a particular focus on UHC and building health system resilience.
COVID-19 has shocked health systems and has put progress towards global and national health agendas at risk, including UHC and the SDGs. During the 2021 Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting, member countries committed to ensuring continuity of access to essential health services, sustaining gains in key public health priorities including HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other mosquito borne diseases, poliomyelitis, neglected tropical diseases, malnutrition, and to accelerate efforts to achieve UHC.
One-third of the global population lacks reliable access to needed medicines. The situation is even worse in the poorest countries of Africa and Asia where as much as 50% of the population lacks such access.
In 2018, Commonwealth Health Ministers agreed to the establishment of an information-sharing mechanism among member countries, which includes, but is not limited to, an electronic database of distributors, wholesalers, manufacturers and prices. The establishment of this information sharing mechanism aimed to increase equitable access to essential quality medicines, health commodities and pharmaceutical procurement data, and also provide an opportunity to assist member states with informed decision-making when sourcing essential medicines, vaccines and health technologies.
Following the Commonwealth Health Ministers meeting in 2018, the Commonwealth Secretariat initiated the process for the development of the Voluntary Information and Price-Sharing database (VIPSD) which was finalised March 2021 and officially launched in October 2021, with the support of its partners from the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association, SAPAM and SADC.
If you are currently appointed as the lead Procurement representative for your country and are interested in learning more about the Voluntary Information and Price Sharing Database, please complete this form, and we will be in contact with further information.
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), are the leading cause of death globally, with more than 36 million deaths annually, principally from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases. Commonwealth countries share a high burden of NCDs, with nearly 400 million individuals currently diagnosed with at least one NCD.
The Commonwealth has played a leading role in developing advocacy strategies to support policies and programmes, disseminating knowledge about best practices, and institutional strengthening of member countries to address NCDs.
We assist member countries through four key mechanisms:
- Convening of high-level multilateral dialogues and forums, such as the annual Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting and Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Health
- Provide country capacity building opportunities, including the coordination of technical working groups and the provision of technical assistance, with the support of Commonwealth accredited organisations and partners.
- Facilitate opportunities for networking between member countries to foster cooperation through sharing of information and best practices
- Share evidence-based research and advocacy to advance understanding of emerging and persistent health challenges within the Commonwealth community
The Commonwealth works to achieve these aims through an integrated approach, working closely with other internal departments such as the Sport for Development and Peace Section, Education Section and the Youth Section, to ensure an interdisciplinary approach. The Secretariat seeks to ensure young people and often marginalised groups are at the heart of health work.
To advance Commonwealth health priorities as mandated by the Commonwealth Health Ministers and Commonwealth Heads of Government, the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Health Section works closely with key partners such as the Commonwealth Foundation, Malaria No More UK, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, Resolve to Save Lives, Southern African Programme for Access to Medicines, Union for International Cancer Control and the World Health Organization.
We also work closely with regional bodies and Commonwealth accredited organisations including the Commonwealth Centre for Digital Health, Commonwealth Health Professions Alliance, Commonwealth Medical Association, Commonwealth Medical Trust, Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Federation, Commonwealth Pharmacists Association and the Commonwealth Youth Health Network.
The Health Section works closely with the Commonwealth Youth Health Network (CYHN), a youth-led platform for young people to advocate and engage on global issues related to health, through individual and collective action. Recent joint efforts have included advocating for increased investment in cervical cancer vaccination programmes across the Commonwealth and seeking to reduce the stigma of mental health in young people.