hepinion: The evidence is in, governments need to recognise the value of civil society

29 May 2019 Lucy Ferrier

 Blog by Cary James, WHA CEO

For a long time WHA has strongly advocated for governments to view civil society as valuable partners in the creation and implementation of hepatitis elimination strategies. Civil society brings the knowledge and expertise that can help hepatitis elimination strategies access hard to reach communities, reduce stigma and discrimination, and ensure that patients’ needs are represented and met. Yet many governments have been slow to see civil society as a valuable partner.

Data presented in the Journal of Hepatology provides clear evidence of the advantages of engaging with civil society. The data was generated by a World Health Organization (WHO) survey of Ministries of Health (in all 194 WHO Member States) which asked them to complete a country profile on their viral hepatitis policy. The data showed that the proportion of Member States reporting engagement with civil society ranged from 47% in the Western Pacific region to 63% in the Americas and South-east Asia. Engagement ranged from 38% in upper- middle income settings to 54% in high income settings. Crucially the data found the Member States which engaged with civil society were more likely to have national viral hepatitis plans (84% vs 44%); were more likely to have dedicated funding (52% vs 23%) and were more likely to have officially observed World Hepatitis Day (85% vs 47%). The data also showed that Member States which engaged with civil society were slightly more likely to have laws or policies to combat stigma and discrimination (79% vs 71%).

“Civil society changed the course of viral hepatitis elimination, through over a decade of advocacy work”

This is important data for us. It proves the importance of civil society engagement, and it shows our impact. The hard work of civil society has changed the course of viral hepatitis elimination. Through over a decade of passionate advocacy, we have successfully put hepatitis on the global health agenda culminating in the creation of the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis. It has committed all 194 WHO Member States to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. As hepatitis elimination strategies are cascaded down to the regional and national level, it is vital that civil society and the affected community are kept at the heart of hepatitis elimination.

We are essential to accelerate hepatitis elimination. The governments that do work with civil society are seeing the value; just this month the Minister of Health of Romania recognised the role of civil society at the launch of their hepatitis elimination strategy saying, “We would especially like to thank Marinela Debu (President of WHA member APAH-RO) for great collaboration.”

The value of civil society must be recognised at the highest levels. We now have the evidence to demonstrate what many of us have always known. The work of civil society organisations makes a huge positive impact and should not be seen as a desirable extra to programmes, but a central element of every elimination plan around the world.