A letter to The Lancet from Ms Gabriela Cueva and Dr Justin...
The first face-to-face of the Social Participation Technical Network took place on 16-17 April 2019 in Geneva. It was an informal and lively meeting, with vibrant and frank discussion to inform research priorities for WHO in the development of the Handbook for Member States on social participation for universal health coverage (UHC).
This technical network is a part of the Health Systems Governance Collaborative and UHC2030 and is co-chaired by Jean-Francois Delfraissy, President, National Bioethics Council, France; Justin Koonin, President, Acon/Civil Society Engagement Mechanism Representative; and Mette Kinoti, Chief Programmes Officer, Amref Health Africa.
It brings together community and civil society members, academics and government representatives to share their expertise and experiences to advise the WHO team in development of the Handbook. Another objective of this network is to establish social participation as a core principle in health system governance for UHC – at global and country levels.
Preliminary research results were shared and discussed during the meeting, and proposals for country case studies reviewed. Participants identified priority topics for the next phase of the research. We heard calls for developing the rationale - an investment case – to convince Member States of the value of participatory governance in health.
Participants made it clear that participation must mean genuine partnership and empowerment – whereby civil society voice influences decision making - and not tokenism, in order to advance accountability, equity, social justice and human rights.
The Handbook should interrogate the political economy of participation, exposing who is not around the table and why, otherwise we risk perpetuating existing power imbalances and vested interests. There was also discussion of potential complementary products to follow the Handbook’s publication, and requests for a dynamic and interactive format to facilitate ongoing learning and exchange across stakeholders and countries.
Finally, potential opportunities to advance advocacy for social participation were also explored, with the aim of influencing the High Level Meeting on UHC in September and country-level planning processes.