WHO and the Commonwealth To Reinforce Cooperation on Equitable Access to Vaccines

By Jamshed Baruah

GENEVA (IDN) — The World Health Organization (WHO) and the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that focuses on ending the COVID-19 pandemic, advancing Universal Health Coverage, addressing vaccine equity, strengthening digital health systems and working towards global health security

The MoU was signed on February 7 at a ceremony held at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Ms Patricia Scotland, and the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The Commonwealth Secretariat plays an important role in fostering and supporting greater cohesion among member states and governments across a range of policy areas and programmes. In signing the document, the two parties agreed to work together and strengthen the exchange of information on seven priority areas.

These aim at 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, and creating space for innovation and exchange of knowledge.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Ms Scotland said: “Equitable access to vaccines is the world’s most pressing political, economic, social and moral priority. Without effective and prompt action on vaccines, we face a never-ending global health crisis that will reduce all of our wealth and security.”

Dr Tedros 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. WHO’s commitment to supporting all Commonwealth countries will be strengthened through our commitment to promoting universal health coverage, global health security and ensuring vulnerable groups receive all support needed to lead healthy lives.”

The importance of the agreement lies in the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has put immense pressure on global health systems, especially those of developing countries with weaker health systems, halting progress made over the last 20 years towards attaining health-related Sustainable Development Goals. This has, in turn, put the prevention and treatment of life-threatening diseases, including cancers, diabetes, heart diseases, and malaria at risk.

The Commonwealth is disproportionately affected by a number of preventable diseases. The 25 malaria-endemic countries of the Commonwealth account for 56% of the world’s malaria deaths and 54% of the world’s malaria cases. Commonwealth members account for 40% of global cervical cancer incidence and 43% of cervical cancer mortality, despite having only 30% of the world’s population.

The Commonwealth and WHO will therefore reinforce cooperation to scale up global efforts to improve health outcomes across the Commonwealth. This partnership will also contribute towards the shared goal of fast-tracking the elimination of malaria and blinding trachoma, and eliminating cervical cancer, as universally endorsed by Commonwealth Heads of Government. 

Leaving no one behind

Besides, the global pandemic continues to pose a significant threat to public health, especially with the spread of new highly contagious variants.

As of 31 January 2022, over 77 million COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Commonwealth, with hundreds of thousands of new cases being reported daily. Furthermore, 42% of Commonwealth citizens are fully vaccinated. The percentage of fully vaccinated people ranges from 23% in African countries of the Commonwealth to 43% in the WHO Region of the Americas and 56% in the WHO Western Pacific Region.

These figures reflect the global trend of high and upper-middle-income countries procuring and administering a significant proportion of the total number of vaccines.

Against this backdrop, heads of the two organizations reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring equitable access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and advancing WHO’s target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by July 2022. [IDN-InDepthNews – 07 February 2022]

Photo: The Commonwealth Secretary-General Ms Patricia Scotland and the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Source: The Commonwealth.

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