WHO Civil Society Initiative y Eva Wallstam, Director of WHO Civil Society Initiative. tatement at the Global Forum for Health Promotion Dialogue Paris, 16 July 2001 Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Today public health is a priority item on the international agenda. Policy makers everywhere are concerned about the health of their people; the G8 and the G77 groups of countries are giving attention to health issues; the UN has placed health on the Millenium agenda and the UN Secretary General is taking a lead role in creating a global AIDS and health fund. This is a time of unprecedented opportunity for global public health, a time when flexibility and innovative thinking will be essential to capture these new opportunities. Over the past few years, civil society has increased its participation both in national governance and in policy making at global level. These developments include an increased democratization process; enhanced communications; a changing role of the nation-state, less government capacity in many countries to take responsibility for the health; a dramatic increase of the number of private organizations and an emerging global civil society involved in public health. The recent dispute in South Africa over improved access to essential medicines has shown the influential role of civil society. Nowadays , NGOs and consumer groups are at the forefront of discussions on intellectual property rights and access to essential drugs, in the debates on environment and health and at the centre of action for sustainable human development. The widening gap between rich and poor nations which has led to increasing inequalities in health outcomes has spurred groups all around the world to express their concern. The Peoples' Health Charter agreed on at the Peoples' Health Assembly in Dhaka in December last year is a living example of the advocacy role of civil society. This is also a time when the Health for All core values of equity, dignity and human rights, need to be more clearly articulated. Sustainable health development will depend on the ability of all actors to forge new partnerships and strengthen their collaboration. For WHO this means reaching out, beyond the formal health sector to other partners and to a wide range of civil society actors such as many of you present here today. The concept and practice of collaboration with civil society organizations, CSOs, is not new for WHO. However, due to the growing influence of non-state actors in public life and public health, the need for WHO to improve and strengthen these partnerships has now become even more apparent. Strengthening partnerships with CSOs is not an end in itself, but a means of jointly developing, acting on a broad social agenda. From a WHO point of view, more participation of CSOs makes it more relevant. From a CSO perspective one could see that increased participation in multi-lateral work has several objectives: to influence global policies, to learn from WHO's technical knowledge, and at the national level to increase their relevance and to validate and gain support. I am happy for this opportunity to address you. As Director of the newly created Civil Society Initiative within the cluster of External Relations I would like to share with you the developments that have led to the creation of the Initiative and our initial plans. I am convinced that this conference will provide stimulating ideas for the Initiative. Since Dr. Brundtland took office in 1998, she has repeatedly stated that the global health agenda is too complex for any one entity, and that WHO, to work effectively, needs new types of partnerships. Since then WHO has increased its reach to different parts of government and to civil society in the form of traditional NGOs, professional associations, research community, foundations, bilateral agencies and the corporate sector. Most recently, in her speech to the World Health Assembly in May this year, Dr. Brundtland recommitted the Organization to strengthening partnerships with a broader range of actors. At the same time she recognized that WHO needs to seek a balance between the public sector, the corporate sector and civil society in order to achieve sustainable health outcomes. At this occasion she launched the WHO Civil Society Initiative. The aim of the Initiative is to strengthen mutually beneficial relationships between WHO and CSOs. The Initiative will be responsible for reviewing official and working relations between WHO and CSOs and for developing a framework for more effective collaboration as well as a system for information exchange and dialogue. Our working definition of civil society builds on the notion that civil society conceptually exists between households and the state. This is of course a very broad definition which could include all non-state actors including for profit and not-for-profit associations. Within the Civil Society Initiative, we will focus our attention on the not-for-profit actors. These include voluntary associations, social movements, NGOs and community based organizations as well as professional organizations. We will work closely and in parallel with colleagues who deal with the corporate sector, research organizations and academia. WHO has two approaches for collaboration with the NGO sector. First there is the highly formalized system for official relations which comprises 190 NGOs including the International Union for Health Promotion and Education. Second, there is a multitude of informal relationships. Various WHO departments, regional and country offices work with NGOs in different ways. The character of the collaboration varies. Some NGOs implement WHO sponsored activities such as those connected to the Polio eradication initiative, Roll Back Malaria or TB programmes. Other NGOs contribute technically, for example within the areas of disability and adolescent health. Yet others participate in the capacity building and health promotion dimensions of WHO's work through the production of joint publications, consultations and workshops. There are also CSOs and consumer groups that advocate for broader issues in health and development such as those concerning trade agreements and human rights, more or less in conjunction with WHO. The Initiative will review WHO/CSO interactions first by mapping current relationships and their results and then by assessing the most important operational and strategic issues. We hope that this will enable us to identify what works in relation to WHO's mission in the form of Best Practises. However, equally important is to explore the constraints that may exist in these relationships. The expected outcome of this first phase of the Initiative is an analysis and a proposed organization-wide framework for coherent and more effective collaboration. We have already started consultations inside WHO. Within the next few months we plan to consult broadly with NGOs and other civil society organizations. The Initiative will also address issues relating to improved communication and dialogue between WHO and Civil Society including a training programme for WHO staff. This Global Forum for Health Promotion Dialogue is an example of an innovative new form of relationship between UN and civil society in one specific area. If successful this Forum may set the pattern for new ways for global interaction in health. WHO's Civil Society Initiative will follow this development with great interest. Thank you.