Within the global health community, there are persistent themes that we hear again and again. One that resonates deeply with Global Health Council (GHC) is ensuring that civil society has a seat at the table as policy, program and funding decisions are made. Actually, make that tables (plural) –  these seats must be available at all levels – global, national and regional. In fact, this is an important focus area within GHC’s new strategic framework. So, we were very pleased to participate in several recent discussions focused on this topic.

At the World Health Organization Executive Board meeting from February 3 – 8, there was a significant discussion on the involvement of non-State actors in WHO’s governing bodies. Dialogue around WHO’s engagement of civil society and other non-State actors has been a long-standing one in which GHC has worked to advocate on behalf of our members. While in Geneva, GHC was pleased to deliver a statement highlighting the great value we have seen in civil society’s contributions to important global, regional and national policy dialogues. We referenced the approaches and lessons learned from other UN agencies that have made important strides in the inclusion and meaningful engagement of civil society stakeholders. 

With a diverse set of views on the proposals put forth at the Executive Board meeting, no major policy changes are expected this year. We are looking forward to a robust participation of all actors at the upcoming World Health Assembly (WHA). GHC’s hope is that, as Member States continue to wrestle with the issue, they will do so in collaboration with civil society and that we can, collectively, make progress in order to move forward on meaningful, mutually beneficial improvements in 2021. Our community has several opportunities to provide input between now and then and GHC is eager to serve as a conduit for feedback, delivering it directly to decision-makers. We also will report back on what we are hearing. It is critical for our community to amplify recommendations that we can all support.

Also in February, GHC joined a meeting of over 30 civil society organizations convened by the Joep Lange Institute. The dialogue focused on the importance of national level advocacy for global health policies and programs, and the resources available to local and community actors for their engagement in these efforts. Even when civil society does have a seat at the table, all too often such opportunities are limited to global actors who have funding to make their voices heard. As GHC emphasized at our #DemocratizeGlobalHealth symposium, we must shift the balance of power by fighting this trend. So, we are excited to be a part of this effort and will continue to work with others to expand that group and elevate our common cause.

If this conversation feels familiar, it’s because our community has been having it for what seems like eons. Certain groups – for example, people living with HIV, reproductive health activists and cancer survivors – have made great strides in mobilizing champions for global or local policy change and offer lessons for other areas of global health. Even where progress has been made, though, reaching the most marginalized populations continues to be an intransigent challenge. 

Familiar as the conversation may be, this issue is one that we must solve – and soon. We have audacious global goals looming. How will we reach Sustainable Development Goal 3 by 2030 if we do not all have a voice and play an active role in creating and implementing solutions? It is only by coming together — and ensuring that all stakeholders are truly heard — that we will be able to achieve our objective of greater health and wellbeing for everyone, no matter who or where they are.

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