Social participation and accountability within and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

Civil society meeting with WHO DG Dr Tedros, Tuesday 13 October 2020, and (civil society only) follow-up meeting on Tuesday 27 October 2020

As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages the globe, country governments have made swift decisions to put large swathes of the world’s population under mass isolation (lockdowns, curfews) in the race to heed off Covid-19’s lethality, particularly in certain population subgroups. These decisions affect some groups disproportionately, and policy makers and politicians have not adequately consulted communities, civil society and those who have experience and expertise on the secondary effects of lockdowns, social distancing measures and movement restrictions, nor involved them properly in national task forces. At the core of the issue of countries not being responsive to their people, we see the lack or insufficient implementation of social accountability.

Parliamentary and judicial control of governments has been suspended in some countries. Some governments have used the measures as pretext to further restrict the right to freedom of speech, opinion and the press and to reinforce the global trend of shrinking space for civil society. But meaningful participation of civil society actors in international diplomatic spaces is at stake too, and seriously compromised for the time being, due to virus control measures. Virtual multilateral consultations and negotiations are challenging regarding transparency and participation by civil society actors due to the digital divide.

Civil society dialogue meeting with WHO Director-General Dr Tedros on 13 October 2020

In this third dialogue meeting on the Covid-19 response between civil society organizations and the WHO leadership, civil society speakers did not repeat the evidence already collected and the stories already told by civil society representatives from various countries. We took them as an agreed starting point for deepening the dialogue, and we focused on what is to be done.

Programme and civil society panellists

Panel 1: WHO to promote social accountability beyond providing “technical” guidance to countries

  • Diane Nsubuga, Living Goods, Uganda, SPTN
  • Khuat Thi Hai Oanh, SCDI, Vietnam, CSEM
  • Renu Khanna, Society for Health Alternatives, India, COPASAH
  • Dr Tedros and WHO staff

Panel 2: WHO to consistently deal with institutional civil society interaction as a matter of social accountability

  • Thomas Schwarz, MMI Network, Switzerland, Geneva Global Health Hub (Input: PDF)
  • Angela Nguku, White Ribbon Alliance, Kenya, GAP Civil Society Advisory Group
  • Jake Suett, UK, ACT-A Diagnostics pillar
  • Dr Tedros and WHO staff

Moderator: Justin Koonin, ACON, Australia, CSEM/SPTN

In the two-hours meeting, the WHO Director-General and his team responded quite specifically to the different asks for commitment and action, in particular confirming some agreed action points. This will be followed-up by the civil society co-organizers in a (civil society only) meeting on 27 October 2020, and in a next step again with the WHO Secretariat.

Please note that the recording of the dialogue meeting will not be published nor broadly disseminated but can be requested at the co-organizers (see below for contacts).

Three interrelated challenges

This civil society dialogue with the WHO leadership focused on three interrelated challenges in the promotion of social participation and accountability as a core element of democratic governance within and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic:

  • In its interaction with Member States on promoting social participation and accountability at country level, WHO to provide political leadership beyond technical guidance
  • In its own fields of work and related institutional processes and arenas, WHO to consistently deal with civil society engagement as a matter of social participation and accountability
  • Civil society organizations, networks and platforms to get better organized in the promotion of good governance at all levels and at the same time consistently address own shortcomings in the field of participation and accountability.

Civil society input paper with key asks for commitment and action

Read the input paper for the meeting (word – PDF) with introductions and civil society asks for commitment and action. The paper was drafted by the co-organizers and shared with the WHO Secretariat as main reference for the dialogue with Dr Tedros.

Civil society follow-up meeting on 27 October 2020

This “civil society only” follow-up meeting to the dialogue session with WHO DG Dr Tedros, conducted on 13 October on “Social participation and accountability within and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.” was hold again on the Zoom conference platform, but with a minimum of formal input (see below) and active engagement of the attendants. The set-up allowed brainstorming and strategizing in a broader team.


Concluding the formal dialogue
Follow-up on agreed action

In the follow-up of the civil society meeting on 27 October, the co-organizers of this dialogue concluded the direct follow-up as follows:

  • 25 November 2020: Letter / memo to Dr Tedros and team
    Follow-up on overall outcome and agreed action points: Memo as PDF
  • May 2021: Feedback by WHO Secretariat
    The Secretariat confirms that there will be a follow-up dialogue with the DG later in the year, to review and bring forward agreed action

Contact for information (CSOs):
Thomas Schwarz

Follow-up on WHO Civil Society Commission

  • 26 November 2020: Initial meeting of an ad-hoc civil society task group
    This group’s agreed task was to to develop, by the end of the year, an initial outline for a “WHO Civil Society Commission”.
  • 11 January 2021: Outline of proposed “WHO Civil Society Commission”
    Submitted to WHO Secretariat by ad hoc civil society task group
    Covering letter and outline as PDF: Outline WHO Civil Society Commission
  • May 2021: Feedback by WHO Secretariat
    The Secretariats confirms its availability to explore Commission proposal

Contact for information (CSOs):
Thomas Schwarz

Civil society co-organizers

  • Community of Practitioners on Accountability and Social Action in Health (COPASAH)
  • Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2)
  • UHC2030 Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (CSEM)
  • UHC2030 Social Participation Technical Network (SPTN), Civil society co-chair
    together with the WHO Secretariat.

Contact for information: Thomas Schwarz, MMI Network/G2H2 Secretariat
G2H2 guide to series of civil society meetings with WHO DG Dr Tedros: here