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Civil society calls for an overhaul of the rules guiding the relations between WHO and NGOs

Third World Network (TWN), an independent non-profit international network of organizations and individuals, is calling for the overhaul of the principles governing the relations between the World Health Organization (WHO) and NGOs. As these principles were enacted in 1987, their current application seems no longer relevant to today’s realities. TWN argues that over the years civil society has increased its role within the international organizations, including many United Nations bodies, where it has become more free to speak – without any form of censorship. However, WHO did not follow this evolution According to TWN, WHO’s relationship with NGOs continues to be complicated and is characterized by tedious procedures, a lack of distinction between business and public interest NGOs, inadequate safeguards in the case of conflicts of interests; a lack of space and opportunity to organize events or to interact with the organization’s Secretariat and its Member States; and a practice of scrutiny and censorship.

TWN’s call for an overhaul of the rules was released at the time that WHO’s Executive Board was holding its 130th session (from 16-23 January 2012). One of the topics on its agenda was to review WHO’s relationship with NGOs. To this end, WHO’s Secretariat proposed to:

• “review and update the principles governing WHO’s relations with non-governmental organizations. The review will consider (i) widening and improving the modalities for the participation of non-governmental organizations at regional and global governing body meetings; (ii) seeking the views of non-governmental organizations in the development of new health policies and strategies; (iii) updating practices and criteria for accreditation. In relation to the last point, the review will consider ways of differentiating between the different types of non-governmental organizations that interact with WHO.
• “develop comprehensive policy frameworks to guide interaction with the private, for-profit as well as not-for-profit philanthropic organizations. The proposed frameworks should, inter-alia, tackle the issue of institutional conflicts of interests.”

Although the above proposal is very much welcomed, TWN cautions that it contains various deficiencies and gaps that need to be addressed. It argues that the proposal should better build on the outcomes of the 2002 Review report – which was an earlier attempt by WHO to improve WHO-NGO relations, but which failed as it never past WHO Member States – and that is should be adjusted, so that it establishes “a process to map and analyze all formal and informal partnerships WHO is engaged in, with the aim to conduct a thorough impact assessment of WHO’s involvement in such partnerships including the financial implications for WHO, the purpose, strategy, and cost effectiveness of partnerships, as well as their compliance with the WHO Constitution and work plan.”

To read the full statement, click here

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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