By Haruna Gimba
World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched the WHO Civil Society Commission and held the inaugural meeting of its Steering Committee in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Commission provides, for the first time, the ability to channel advice and recommendations in a more structured and systematic manner from civil society to WHO on health priorities and related issues.
The historical role of civil society organizations (CSO) in bringing about change in public health is well-known.
While WHO has a long-standing tradition of working with CSOs, the establishment of the Commission takes the collaboration to a new level.
The meeting was opened by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, and brought together the members of the Steering Committee (consisting of 22 diverse civil society organizations from the Commission, working on health and other sectors.
Full membership of the Commission itself will be announced in the coming days.
The Commission’s mandate is to strengthen dialogue and foster collaboration with WHO and among one another.
It will also provide recommendations to support WHO in this engagement at all levels (global, regional and national) towards the achievement of universal health coverage (health for all) as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.
The launch of the Commission is the Director-General’s response to civil society requests to explore better and more meaningful ways to engage with WHO above and beyond those which already exist.
“We know from our experience in so many areas that listening to and responding to the voices of the communities we serve is essential to properly addressing the health challenges they face,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“We have set up the WHO Civil Society Commission to bring civil society from different backgrounds together to advise us and work with us so that we can learn from you and be guided by your ideas.”
The Steering Committee will provide overall strategic direction for the full Commission and lead the development of its main deliverables.
It will also convey advice and recommendations from civil society through regular engagement with the Director-General and senior WHO leadership.
During the meeting, the WHO Director-General encouraged the Steering Committee to consult with all Commission members and set priorities based on what they learn.
He also asked for guidance in developing a WHO civil society engagement strategy and in such r key organizational priorities as WHO’s next -three-year plan: the 14th General Programme of Work will be approved by Member States in May 2024 and guide the work of the organization from 2025-2028.
Over 350 Organizations have so far applied to be part of the Commission. Today, WHO, will begin to notify the 120 organizations that have been accepted so far. Others will be notified in the coming weeks. A list of participants can be found of the WHO website and will be regularly updated.
The application process will remain open and organizations that wish to apply to join the Commission are encouraged to do so.
“This is an historic opportunity for close collaboration between WHO and CSOs around the world, and we are excited that many organizations will have an active role,” said the Steering Committee civil society co-chairs Lisa Hilmi (CORE group) and Ravi Ram (Medwise Solutions)
“We welcome all civil society organizations committed to improve global health to join the WHO CSO Commission and look forward to their engagement and thought leadership for addressing critical health issues.”
Organizations that meet the criteria in the Terms of Reference for the Civil Society Commission may apply to join the WHO Civil Society Commission.
The application can be accessed on the WHO website for the Civil Society Commission; there is no cut-off date for applications.