SWITZERLAND – The Commonwealth Secretariat and the World Health Organization (WHO) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), pledging to strengthen collaboration on a wide range of public health issues of particular concern to Commonwealth member states and governments.

The public health issues prioritized in the pact include the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine equity, advancing universal health coverage, and building resilient health systems.

The MoU was signed at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, and the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is critical in fostering and supporting greater cohesion among member states and governments across a wide range of policy areas and programs.

In signing the document, the two parties agreed to collaborate and strengthen information exchange in seven priority areas: Promoting universal health coverage and primary healthcare, strengthening global health security, promoting healthy environments, promoting the health of vulnerable groups, transforming lifelong learning for health impact, building a data partnership, creating space for innovation and exchange of knowledge.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Partnership is essential in ensuring all people can achieve the highest level of health possible. The new agreement between the World Health Organization and the Commonwealth Secretariat reflects the importance of collaboration to promote and protect people’s wellbeing…”

This collaboration exemplifies the Commonwealth Secretariat’s and WHO’s long-standing commitment to ensuring equitable access to high-quality health care and promoting the health and well-being of all people.

The Memorandum of Understanding we have signed today demonstrates that both organizations share a vision for cooperation and action on these challenges.

Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General.


Overstretched health systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous strain on global health systems, particularly those in developing countries with weaker health systems, halting progress toward achieving health-related Sustainable Development Goals over the last 20 years, the statement read.

As a result, the prevention and treatment of life-threatening diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and malaria are jeopardized.

A number of preventable diseases afflict the Commonwealth disproportionately. The Commonwealth’s 25 malaria-endemic countries account for 56% of all malaria deaths and 54% of all malaria cases worldwide.

Despite having only 30% of the world’s population, Commonwealth members account for 40% of global cervical cancer incidence and 43% of cervical cancer mortality.

As a result, the Commonwealth and WHO will strengthen their collaboration in order to scale up global efforts to improve health outcomes across the Commonwealth.

This collaboration will also help to accelerate the elimination of malaria, blinding trachoma, and cervical cancer, all of which have been universally endorsed by Commonwealth Heads of Government.

The signing ceremony in Geneva was virtually attended by Ambassadors from Commonwealth member states, and it included interventions from ministers and ambassadors representing Commonwealth regions, all of whom welcomed the partnership.

The MoU has been signed against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to pose a significant threat to public health, particularly with the spread of new highly contagious variants.

During the session, both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring equitable access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as advancing WHO’s target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by July 2022.

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