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A King: 2nd Plenary Session, as Chair of 13CHM

26 November 2001 Hon Annette King Speech Notes

Acceptance Speech, Second Plenary Session, as Chair of 13CHMM

It is a privilege for me to accept the role of chair for this meeting – the Thirteenth Meeting of Commonwealth Health Ministers. I enjoyed meeting many of you at the pre-WHA meeting In Geneva earlier this year and look forward to more stimulating debate with you all.

The fundamental challenge faced by ministers of health and public sector health officials is summed up by the theme of our meeting – priority setting in health systems.

How do we use the scarce resources all our countries have to get the best health and independence outcomes for our people, and, collectively, for the citizens of the Commonwealth?

We come from a vast diversity of nations. Large and small are represented here, and there is also a wide diversity in terms of economic development. Our countries have different demographics, and we have different epidemiological trends.

But we all have features in common too. We have constrained financial resources, human resources and infra-structural resources. All three types of resources have a direct impact on the processes we use to set priorities, and on what those priorities will be for each of us.

Here at 13CHMM it will not be possible or appropriate, of course, for us to identify what the individual priorities for each nation should be. That is a detailed process that needs to be undertaken within the context of our own health systems and health needs.

What I hope we can gain however is an understanding of the different processes and methods of prioritisation. We can discover what has worked for others, what hasn’t worked, and what lessons there are for us to take home and develop for our own use.

We may also discover, as a Commonwealth, areas and issues where we can agree on a common approach.

One such area, where we can potentially work together as a Commonwealth, is in terms of the health workforce, in making the best use of our human resources.

It is fundamental that we all need a sufficient number of skilled health workers to achieve our various objectives for our health and disability systems, and therefore for our citizens. We are all struggling with training, building and nurturing the health workforce we need.

Commonwealth countries do not struggle in isolation either. There is a global marketplace for health workers, and action by any one of us impacts – positively or negatively – on other countries.

I hope that at this meeting we can openly discuss the future of the health workforce within the Commonwealth, and seek agreement on how we interact as Commonwealth countries in the quest to improve and develop a health workforce that supports our health and disability needs.

We began the debate at pre-WHA in Geneva. I hope we can keep the momentum going here.

Another priority that crosses national boundaries is the impact of HIV/AIDS.

This disease is a national priority for many individual Commonwealth countries and a global priority for us all. The response to HIV/AIDS is not confined to the health sector, and nor to the Commonwealth.

We have a number of committee sessions to discuss HIV/AIDS and the Commonwealth approach to stemming its transmission and reducing its devastating impact.

In these sessions we might like to consider the approach the Commonwealth should take to the outcome of the United Nations special session on HIV/AIDS held earlier this year.

The Commonwealth should seek opportunities for prevention in order to forestall the enormous human suffering that is consequent on a large-scale epidemic.

This will benefit areas, such as the Pacific, where risk factors are evident, but where the disease has, as yet, had minimal impact. Prevention is not only the most effective approach, but also the most cost-effective because it frees funds for other priorities.

HIV/AIDS and the health workforce are two issues that make us acutely aware of the global community we live in.

Globalisation has become a catchphrase for the increase in cross-border economic, social and technological exchange. Interactions between countries are becoming more frequent, rapid, sophisticated, and inexpensive. We do not operate technologically, economically or socially in isolation from each other.

As we are all well aware, globalisation has both its proponents and opponents. At 13CHMM our task is to consider whether globalisation offers opportunities for our health systems, and, if so, how we can take advantage of those opportunities and deal with possible disadvantages.

While we are meeting, the attendees at the Parallel Commonwealth Health Symposium and Trade Fair are also meeting and discussing priority setting in health systems.

We have a considerable number of opportunities for interchange with the attendees at the parallel event, including attending the opening of the Trade Fair shortly.

We also have a detailed interactive session with attendees at the Parallel Event when we discuss improving the efficiency and effectiveness of health systems. In particular we will examine:

 the impact of tobacco and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control

 regional co-operation on health priorities

 the role of international health priorities in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery.

These are important issues. I encourage you to discuss them with the academics, NGO representatives, and public and private providers who are attending the Parallel Symposium.

We have a full and demanding agenda for our meeting. I look forward to chairing our discussions, to grappling with the issues that arise, and to the communiqué that we, as a Commonwealth body of nations, will deliver on Thursday to set our programme of work for the next three years.

We will now hear the report of the Commonwealth Secretariat on the action taken by all of us on the recommendations of 12CHMM held in Barbados in 1998.

Thank you again for electing me as your chair for the Thirteenth Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting. I feel honoured to undertake the role.

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