Last week I attended the 12th Pacific Health Ministers Meeting (PHMM) in the Cook Islands, hosted by Minister of Health, Hon. Nandi Glassie, and supported by the Pacific Community (SPC) and the World Health Organization. His Excellency Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, opened the meeting, which included senior health officials from almost all of the Pacific countries and territories, as well as other stakeholder representatives from across the region.

In many ways, the Pacific has been a global leader in health care policy, with countries taking a cooperative and collaborative approach to addressing the unique challenges that impact our region. The clearest example of this commitment is the Healthy Islands vision, adopted by the Pacific Health Ministers at Yanuca Island in Fiji in 1995. The vision was a world-leading statement that laid the foundation for health and well-being in our island communities. While it remains relevant today, until recently, little has been done to monitor our progress towards achieving that vision in a coordinated way.

It has become increasingly clear that the Healthy Islands vision is intricately connected with other regional priorities, such as the  commitment to providing universal health care for all citizens. Other areas of overlap are also becoming evident, including the recognition of the link between health and regional security – which resulted in the adoption of the Pacific Health Security Coordination Plan – and the relationship between population health and climate change. All of these intersecting priorities make it essential that progress on the Healthy Islands vision is carefully monitored, that our successes and challenges are shared and studied, and that the lessons from these experiences are used to continually improve our efforts.

I was therefore extremely pleased to be present at this meeting to witness Pacific health ministers approve the monitoring framework for the implementation of the Healthy Islands vision, and to receive the first progress report.  The report is the result of a commitment made two years ago, during the 20th commemoration of the Healthy Islands vision, when ministers called for stronger monitoring and evaluation tools. The progress report, which reviews activities across the region, will be updated annually to provide a clear and measureable assessment of how far we have come, and how far we still need to go. As the old saying goes, ‘what gets measured gets done’.

Of course ambitious targets, such as those contained in the Healthy Islands vision, rely not only on the commitments of our regional leaders, but also on the availability of resources. The successful implementation of universal health coverage, coordinated regional health security systems, and climate change adaption initiatives, will remain a challenge, particularly in the smaller islands.

During the meeting, a representative from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) discussed possible avenues of cooperation and support with ministers. SPC is undergoing accreditation with GCF to streamline access to these funds for our members.

Finally, I was very happy to see the countries Australia and New Zealand admitted as full members of the PHMM. As long-standing members of SPC, I have no doubt that they will make an active and valuable contribution to the PHMM, and continue to support the Healthy Islands vision.

With a growing dedicated membership, a clear vision, and a robust monitoring and evaluation system now in place, I am confident we will be able to show significant progress towards achieving the Healthy Islands vision at the 13th Pacific Health Ministers Meeting in 2019.