MOSCOW, Russia — Wednesday, April 27, 2011, marked an important step by the World Health Organization (WHO) in forging multisectoral partnerships for NCDs (non-communicable diseases). In partnership with the Russian Federation, WHO hosted a global forum on addressing the challenge of NCDs, which I, along with Global Health Council’s President & CEO Dr. Jeffrey Sturchio and more than 200 delegates attended to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about how to find collective, inclusive and effective solutions to address NCDs (webcasts of all plenary sessions, including the report back of concurrent sessions here).
In convening such an event, WHO sent a reassuring signal that its approach to NCDs will be inclusive of the broad range of stakeholders that have resources and expertise to contribute in finding solutions, including patient groups, NGOs, private sector, governments, academia and others. Not only through partnerships with WHO, but these stakeholders are also essential to a successful High-Level Meeting on NCDs to be held in September and future action.
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, who offered both opening and closing remarks, admitted that she was “skeptical” of the idea of a multisectoral forum that offered a space for both government representatives as well civil society, including the private sector. With its primary accountability to Member States, “WHO is not an inclusive organization,” she said. But because of the complexity of NCDs, with a network of risk factors (which a largely outside of the health sector) that influence disease and health outcomes, facilitating a dialogue inclusive of health and non-health stakeholders is exactly what is needed.
The meeting included six concurrent sessions examining the role that different stakeholder groups can play, such as the private sector, food and beverage companies, health professionals and health sector, civil society (including faith-based organizations), researchers and academia, and whole-of-governments. For a more detailed breakdown of the sessions’ major outcomes, see here, but the underpinning themes for the day include:
- We need buy-in from the private sector and all actors, which takes into account the comparative advantages of each and incentivizes constructive engagement within markets.
- There are a number of similarities yet distinctions with the HIV/AIDS High-Level Meeting in 2001 and the subsequent movement around this issue. But no lesson more important than the fact that it will take a “community” to really drive the NCD agenda forward, and this should start within civil society.
- Lastly, an adequate NCD response, including by the private sector, will need firm commitment and actions that “walk your talk,” as Dr. Chan stated in her closing remarks.
A number of ambiguities continue to exist in the broader NCD space, including what specific structure public-private partnerships should take, and what overall role each individual stakeholder should play. But with this in mind, WHO made a commendable step in contributing to this dialogue and should continue to use its power as a convener to bring the necessary stakeholders to the table, and identify concrete actions moving forward.