WHO Continues Pattern of Minimizing NSA Engagement

February 10, 2023

Written by Eliana Monteforte, Director, Special Projects

Two days before the opening of the 152nd Executive Board Meeting (EB152), the WHO Secretariat notified Non-Sate Actors (NSAs) that, as happened at the 75th World Health Assembly, they would be restricted from attending official proceedings. Each NSA received just four badges for their delegation and was only able to observe official proceedings from an overflow room. NSAs have continuously experienced a shrinking space for engagement in official WHO proceedings; so this news did not come as a surprise. However, this time, the reality of the situation was even worse. 

The Global Health Council team arrived at WHO headquarters for the opening of EB152. After receiving our badges, we were informed that we would only have access to one NSA overflow room. We were restricted from not only the room where the official proceedings were taking place but also any other non-NSA overflow spaces. The NSA overflow room was located far from the official proceedings and the capacity was meant for, at most, 90 people. There are over 100 NSAs, each of which brought up to four delegates. Needless to say, the room was not adequate for the number of NSAs that traveled to observe the proceedings. Many of the chairs were set up along the wall of the room, allowing delegates no access to headphones for interpretation. The hot, stuffy, crowded room was unsafe for COVID and left many delegates to listen to the proceedings in the corridors and/or cafeteria. It’s clear WHO had not prioritized nor created suitable space for effective NSA engagement. 

NSAs did have the opportunity to deliver one-minute individual statements and four-minute joint statements during the formal proceedings. However, only a few days in advance of the convening, NSAs were informed that joint statements were only allowed for agenda items pre-selected by WHO. This left delegates scrambling to come together and develop these statements. One delegate was escorted into the room where the official proceedings were taking place to give their statement, and then immediately escorted out once they were done.

While having NSAs come together to collectively advocate for health issues makes sense, the process, especially the timeline, made it nearly impossible to effectively represent multiple viewpoints on very complicated health matters. The process also left NSAs unable to see how Member States received individual and joint statements. We were unable to discuss the content with Member States and other stakeholders.  

While EB152 was disappointing, we do see the potential for a better way forward. While in Geneva, GHC had the opportunity to discuss NSA engagement with the WHO Secretariat. At this meeting, we advocated for initial changes that, if implemented immediately, would allow NSAs to more effectively participate in WHO proceedings: 

  • Allow NSAs to pre-select which agenda items on which they would like to provide joint statements, giving them more time to prepare and speak about the health issues that matter to them most. 
  • Host pre-EB and WHA sessions with Member States and other stakeholders where NSAs can have more space to share their advocacy priorities and messages.
  • Facilitate access among NSAs and other delegates, even if, due to venue restrictions, there need to be overflow rooms.
  • While the Civil Society Commission is a step in the right direction, it has taken over two years to launch and has moved forward without broad consultation with CSOs. Therefore, we advocate for an informational session on the WHO Civil Society Commission so that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can learn its purpose, objectives, and how it will be operationalized to improve broad participation and engagement in WHO proceedings.

More immediate actions need to take place for upcoming proceedings, such as the 76th World Health Assembly, to be truly open for NSA engagement.