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Finding common ground: working with non-State actors

May 2014

WHO’s relationships with non-State actors, such as nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, academic institutions and philanthropic foundations, are increasingly critical to WHO’s work. In 1948, WHO stood mainly alone on the global health stage. But in the more than 60 years that have passed since WHO’s founding, the number of organizations in this field has dramatically increased.


Clearly, it is in the best interest of the health of people around the world for all these groups to share resources, experience and expertise, and to eliminate overlap and redundancies – in short, to work together effectively. WHO’s six leadership priorities cannot be fulfilled without the cooperation and partnership of all global health actors.

Exactly how these relationships should be defined has been the focus of discussions in recent months, following meetings held in 2013. The Executive Board, in January 2014, asked for an informal consultation with Member States on 27–28 March 2014, chaired by Professor Thomas Zeltner, WHO’s Special Envoy on engagement with non-State actors.

Nearly 200 participants attended in person or observed by WebEx. They discussed a draft document on how WHO should engage with non-State actors, including methods of interaction and engagement that require development of new policies or revision of existing ones. Member States showed that they were ready to move beyond a debate on broader conceptual issues towards the development of policies.

Although the meeting participants supported one overarching framework for engagement, they noted a need to differentiate among certain types of non-State actors through the development of additional policies. Different policies were needed for philanthropic foundations and academic institutions, not only for private sector entities and nongovernmental organizations.

Member States have expressed a clear wish for comprehensive policies that are as inclusive of different actors as possible, while safeguarding the reputation and work of the Organization from conflicts of interest.

In some cases, this will involve strengthening our procedures to ensure that due diligence is undertaken more consistently, that risk assessments are done properly, and that an online register of non-State actors is created to make all aspects of engagement more transparent.

Professor Zeltner said he was grateful to the participants for helping define the foundations of the framework and to clarify its overall structure. “This debate,” he said, “will allow the Secretariat to present a new version of the framework to the May Health Assembly that is in line with the expectation of Member States.”