Health for all, now!


12825662_10154629238704616_530638962_nIt’s been some time since I last wrote on this magazine and now that I’m back at it I feel both touched and thrilled. Let me introduce myself: my name is Susanna, I’m a “SISM veteran” now attending the school of specialty in General Surgery beyond the alps, in Austria; today I will try to revive your interest with a project in which I took part several times.

To bring the civil society’s voice in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) buildings and then relay the discussions and the undertaken commitments right back to the civil society: this is the aim that the People’s Health Movement (PHM) has established with its project “WHO Watch”.

There are two annual events, both taking place in Geneva: the Executive Board (EB) gathers in January and it discusses about documents, provisions, resolutions and motions that will be approved in May at the presence of all the Member States during the World Health Assembly (WHA). The “Watchers” will attend and actively participate to both events, advocating, creating contact networks and promoting a concept of all-round health harking back to the Alma Ata declaration.

20160128_104847The work starts long before the meetings. PHM opens the call for enrollment on its mailing list and on its official website, creating a group of people based on their CVs and their motivation (also, a good knowledge of English is fundamental). After a few introductory Skype calls, the Watchers are asked to read  with a critical sense the documents that will be discussed during the EB and WHA. In the days preceding the official meetings a workshop will take place, during which there will be a consultation with the other members of the group and with some expert members of PHM in order to decide a common strategy to be pursued for the single topics and the strategy to adopt for advocacy.

Capture d’écran 2016-03-04 à 09.52.43During these international meetings, the Watchers talk with the delegates of other Member States, take official stances publicly reading the statements, create Policy briefs, take notes of what takes place during the sessions and discussions, making these memoranda available for everybody, and try to create coalitions with other NGOs with similar interests in order to work together.

The two weeks of WHO Watch are very intense. You immediately realise that having a medical background doesn’t necessarily bring advantages to enter this world, made of policies and lobbies. Trying to understand the mechanisms that underlie the WHO machine requires a great effort and, sometimes, it has its surprises.

You would think that talking about health policies means that you have the common good as your main goal, unfortunately sometimes you will have the feeling that the primary interests get unduly influenced by secondary interests. If these words rung a bell in your head, you understood right: we’re talking about conflict of interests.

I will try to be as clear as possible, briefly talking about a present-day topic, of which there has been many discussions during the EB138 last january: the framework of engagement with non state actors (FENSA).

  • Who are Non State Actors?

Non State Actors are the stakeholders that are not part of a Member State, i.e. the private sector.

  • Why does an international organism like WHO should should engage with Non State Actors?

Capture d’écran 2016-03-04 à 09.53.33Because in a moment of shortage of public funding, funds are taken from the private sector.

With this Framework WHO is trying to find deals and regulations that are transparent to accept money from financiers.

Therefore, for example, the multinational food companies will be consulted to deal with non communicable disease like diabetes and hypertension, problems strictly linked with nutrition. It’s like asking to a car retailer if you should change your car, or to your hairdresser if it’s time to cut your hair.

Probably, you too will have the impression that the powers at stake are many and that often you could feel like a small pawn on a chessboard that is too big. Personally, I find that even  more so we must try to have our voices heard, because when we talk about people’s health, the civil society itself must ne an active part in the discussion.This project is an example of the will not to surrender and to continue to pursue the principle for which PHM was founded: Health for all, now!

Susanna Bolchini