G2H2 guide: Initial series of Covid-19 related dialogue meetings between civil society organizations and WHO Director-General Dr Tedros

Upcoming dialogue meetings

Second dialogue meeting, Friday 2 October 2020, 14.00-15.30 hrs CEST
Promoting the health and wellbeing of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic: Leveraging youth engagement in participatory governance
Organized by NCD Child together with the WHO Secretariat

Third dialogue meeting, Tuesday 13 October 2020, 14.00-15.30 hrs CEST
Social participation and accountability within and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic
Organized by the UHC2030 Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (CSEM), the Social Participation Technical Network of UHC2030 (SPTN), the Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2) and its working group on WHO and global health governance and the Community of Practitioners on Accountability and Social Action in Health (COPASAH) together with the WHO Secretariat

…and more

Dialogue meeting expected to take place before the end of 2020
Strengthening connections across sectors: Building partnerships for healthy ageing in and beyond the COVID-19 era
Organized by the International Federation on Ageing together with the WHO Secretariat

Dialogue meeting expected to take place before the end of 2020
Integration of Palliative Care into National COVID Response Plans per WHA73/1 
Organized by the nternational Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC) together with the WHO Secretariat

Dialogue meeting expected to take place before the end of 2020
Digital health during COVID-19. Opportunities and Challenges 
Organized by the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) together with the WHO Secretariat

This programme communicated by the WHO Secretariat is “subject to any potential pressing need that may compel WHO to adjust the topics for the proposed dialogues”.

Documentation

First dialogue meeting on Tuesday, 1 September 2020
Achieving a gender transformative COVID response

This meeting was organized and co-hosted by GENDRO and Women in Global Health together with the WHO Secretariat. It was announced as follows: “Through a dynamic, solutions-oriented dialogue session, this will be an opportunity to highlight three specific aspects of gender transformation: leadership, including in the response to COVID at local, national, regional and international levels; data, particularly strategies to ensure the collection and use of gender disaggregated data in times of COVID; and health care, with a focus on women on the frontlines. The session seeks to focus on solutions and strategies for progress, including what civil society asks of WHO and also what civil society itself can do.”

Sub-topics and speakers/panellists

Leadership

  • Sarah Hillware, Deputy Director, Women in Global Health (USA)
  • Dr Amina Jama, Women in Global Health (Somalia)

Data

  • Dr Shirin Heidari, President and Founder of GENDRO (Switzerland)
  • Ricardo Baruch D. | Regional Advocacy Officer, IPPF/Western Hemisphere (Mexico)

Health care

  • Dr Nicole Fouda Mbarga, Alliance for Gender Equality and UHC, MSF, (Cameroon)
  • Dr Denise Nacif Pimenta, Gender and COVID-19 Working Group (Brasil)

The meeting was moderated by Roopa Dhatt, Women in Global Health (USA).

WHO Secretariat respondents: DG Dr Tedros, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist; Dr Samira ASMA, ADG Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact; Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Unit head, WHE; Gabby Stern, Director Communications; Dr James Campbell, Director, Health Workforce, and Dr Gaudenz Silberschmidt, Director, Health and Multilateral Partnerships.

References, input, outcome

  • Zoom video recording: here
    Access Passcode: #CsO2020
  • Read the CSO expectations and commitments  the panellists referred to in the dialogue session in the document “Achieving a Gender Transformative COVID-19 response” published by Women in Global Health: womeningh.org/post/achieving
  • The outcome of this dialogue meeting  according to Women in Global Health: “We have charted the following course of action on Gender and COVID-19 between WHO and CSOs: (1) Establishing a Gender and COVID-19 Task Team (Working Group); (2) Contributing to the roster of WHO Experts on Health Emergencies to be both gender; and geographically diverse; (3) Encourage the Solidarity Fund to consider applying a gender lens to their funding; (4) Having a gender perspective to all future civil society dialogues.”. Read their outcome report here: https://mailchi.mp/44639f5bf95e/who-csos-gender-covid19-4833778
  • At the dialogue meeting, WHO DG Tedros also announced that WHO will set up, as part of the overall availability of WHO to work together with civil society on the Covid-19 response, and to support civil society work, a “mechanism with the Solidarity Resonse Fund, to provide grants for innovative projects proposed by civil societes and community groups”.

Background and history

WHO and CSO “townhall meetings”

In May 2020, “in light of limited CSO engagement with WHO throughout the COVID-19 crisis”, a group of civil society organizations reached out to the WHO Director General’s office for a community conversation and secured a “townhall meeting” with Dr Tedros on 26 May 2020.  In its communications, the group expressed its hope that the townhall meeting with the DG would “help jumpstart an ongoing conversation and process with WHO staff about the value we add to their work and clear next steps for how we might partner.”

Responding to the ad hoc initiative and related feedback, the WHO Secretariat invited civil society organizations to a first “webinar” on the 8 July with Dr Tedros on “Civil society engagement in COVID-19 response at national and local levels”.  According to WHO, “the topic for the webinar was chosen as many civil society networks expressed that they should and would like to be more engaged in the COVID-19 response.  This is the first of the series of webinars that will be organized on different topics of interest to the civil society and WHO collaboration related to COVID-19 response and later on also potentially on other topics.”

Programming an initial series of CSO-DG dialogue meetings 

In a feedback session after the “webinar” on 8 July, it was agreed for a small group of CSO representatives to come together to moderate the process of programming a continued series of such Covid-19 related civil society dialogue meetings with Dr Tedros. On 3 August, the “small group” together with the WHO Secretariat issued a Call for Proposals (see PDF file) that found considerable attention, with 43 consortia responding and submitting proposals.

In its call for proposal, the group wrote: “After the good start with the civil society webinar with WHO DG Dr Tedros on 8 July, we still need to define the expected long term outcomes of this series of DG meetings, as part of a more meaningful engagement of WHO with civil society. However, the urgent first step is to implement an initial series of meetings in a way that leads to a positive dynamic and reconfirmed engagement of both the WHO leadership team and the civil society organizations involved.”

The group defined the “main characteristics of success” of such civil society meetings with the WHO DG as follows:

  • thematically relevant and timely
  • include a major cause to mobilisation
  • conveying concrete actions
  • inclusive, open to input, and triggering broad engagement
  • well governed and managed process

The call for proposals and the process for the review and selection of the themes for the CSO – WHO DG dialogue series was conducted by the small group of volunteer CSO representatives. The criteria included: relevance of the issue for civil society, urgency of the matter in the context of COVID-19, validity to organize a meeting with the WHO DG, concreteness of the proposal and clarity in its follow-up, as well as a persuasive outline and format.

Based on this review and a resulting shortlist submitted by the small group to the WHO Secretariat, an initial programme of dialogue sessions was confirmed and communicated by WHO to the consortia that had submitted proposals. The WHO Secretariat confirmed to G2H2 that they are available for responding to any queries by consortium leaders regarding the modalities of the review and the details of their assessment.

Dialogue meetings hosted by the WHO Secretariat

The initial series of dialogue meetings is hosted and technically run by the WHO Secretariat, using Zoom conference platform. The invitations are sent out by the Secretariat, based on the format and programme details and list of speakers/panellists/WHO representatives agreed with the civil society organizers of a dialogue meeting. The meeting itself is moderated and managed by the civil society co-organizers, with the WHO Secretariat providing support.

An early assessment of this initiative

After the difficult debates of the last two years on how to frame a more meaningful engagement of  the World Health Organization with civil society, we welcome this series of “dialogue meetings” between civil society organizations and the WHO Director-General. While such informal “civil society dialogues” cannot replace but only complement proper hearings and consultations and the formal participation of civil society in  WHO governance, we hope that these meetings will contribute to re-establishing a sound and sustained interaction between the WHO Secretariat and civil society in the sense of the former “civil society initiative”, and taking up some of the proposals of the 2018 “WHO civil society task team”, But, for a good start, the governance and management of this initiative are key. So let us engage, share assessments and review the initiative at the end of the year, after the first and hopefully successful series of dialogue meetings. The start has been a good one.

Photo of Dr Tedros: WHO
Panel at first dialogue meeting, 1 September 2020

This informal guide to the civil society dialogue meetings with WHO DG Dr Tedros and his team is provided by G2H2 as a service to its members and partners. Our guide is based on information available at our secretariat and will be updated and extended regularly.

Author and contact: Thomas Schwarz, Medicus Mundi International Network / G2H2 Secretariat, info@g2h2.org