A New Era of Partnership Between WHO and Civil Society

Late last year, on behalf of Women and Global Health, I was invited to be part of the joint WHO- Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Task Team convened as one of the early moves in office by the incoming Director General WHO, Dr Tedros. Our brief was to advise WHO on strengthening its engagement with civil society to deliver the ambitious objectives in WHO’s newly launched 13th General Programme of Work and in turn, support delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including the overarching vision for global health embodied in Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

It was a pleasure to work in the Task Team, co-facilitated by the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and RESULTS, with 21 other civil society leaders from different sectors, geographies and perspectives. It was a reminder of the value of stepping outside the ‘policy bubbles’ we work in, at times, to be challenged by different ways of thinking. We presented our interim recommendations at the May 2018 World Health Assembly and incorporated feedback received into the final report being launched on 7th December 2018.

The Task Team was an ad hoc, short term body and with the publication of the report, our work is done and implementation of the recommendations rest with WHO. As a Task Team member, however, Women in Global Health will continue to provide strategic advice, working with WHO, Member States, and other civil society organisations, to ensure the Report’s recommendations are taken forward.

Stronger WHO engagement with civil society, particularly on gender equality

The Task Team’s recommendations focus on collaboration between WHO and civil society on priority areas of the 13th General Programme of Work (GPW), and generic recommendations for systematic WHO-CSO engagement.

GPW priority areas identified by the Task Team include gender equality, equity and human rights; policy dialogue; health emergencies; and data, research and innovation. Women in Global Health strongly support the objectives in WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work (GPW) of ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages: achieving universal health coverage, addressing health emergencies and promoting healthier populations.

That vision, however, cannot be realised without addressing gender inequality both in health itself and within the health workforce. As a civil society organisation, Women in Global Health aims to be a critical friend to WHO, providing expert advice on gender transformative leadership. We do this because stronger gender transformative leadership and gender equality in WHO will, in turn, lead to stronger global health. We therefore support the priority given by the Task Team to gender equality, equity and rights.

In particular, we look forward to supporting establishment of the independent Inclusivity Advisory and Oversight Group at WHO recommended in the report, to develop strong and coherent policies on gender, youth, equity and rights and ensure those policies form a strong foundation for health for all.

Secondly, the Task Team report recommends ways of improving systematic WHO-CSO engagement, including actions to be taken by WHO, Member States, and civil society organizations to facilitate more effective collaboration. Recommendations build on existing platforms and mechanisms for civil society engagement with WHO to align with the principles of WHO’s Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA).

We fully support the WHO’s GPW but recognise it is unlikely to be realised by WHO and governments alone. Civil society organizations bring a range of expertise from research, service delivery, innovation, health promotion and policy development, all valuable contributions to delivery of universal health coverage. Women in Global Health therefore welcome moves by WHO to recognise and engage the talent and experience of civil society globally.

We believe the invitation from WHO to convene the Task Team signals a new era of partnership between WHO and civil society. At the same time, however, we also know our strength as an organisation lies in our independence. We want to remain a critical friend to WHO and in turn, we expect WHO to hold civil society organisations like ours, to a proper level of accountability.

Final Word

Women in Global Health were pleased to be members of the WHO - Civil Society Organisation Task Team and we support the recommendations of this report, hope you will read them and look forward to next steps in implementation. In common with other 21 civil society organisations on the Task Team we remain committed to supporting WHO to implement the 13th GPW and the ‘triple billion goals’. WHO’s ‘triple billion goals’: whereby 1 billion more people will benefit from universal health coverage, 1 billion more people will be better protected from health emergencies, and 1 billion more people will enjoy better health and well-being, represent a vision of the better world we want to live in.

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