Actions to engage communities in global health

These political and social movements and actions include health forums and platforms and corporate social responsibility.

Whether or not people and organizations take up such opportunities and express their concerns, or take action to support global health, depends on the extent of awareness of and concern for these issues and this, in turn, depends on how well the issues are explained and information disseminated, and the openness of the process. This is no small obstacle, for the issues of global health are complex and multifaceted, and the mechanisms for engagement are labyrinthine. Indeed, a principal reason for the creation of Global Health Europe and this glossary is to provide a guide to the values, institutions, commitments and actions so that people across Europe may more readily engage with global health issues.

Health Forums and Platforms:

Serve as information exchange and consultation mechanisms to ensure that Community health strategy and actions are clear to professionals and the public and are informed by experts and opinions leaders. The forums and platforms include: Global Policy NetworksEU Health Forum, the EC Platform on diet, physical activity and health, the European Alcohol and Health Forum. These and other mechanisms may be used to engage academic, business and civil society (ABC) actors through the Open Method of Coordination.

More on Health Forums and Platforms

Further Definitions

Global Policy Networks:

Policy communities are no longer purely national-an extensive exchange takes place between like-minded actors at multiple levels of governance through policy networks and leads to exchange on policies, innovation and experiences. Europe needs to increase its engagement in policy networks at the global level and Global Health Europe aims to provide a platform for this engagement.

Policy communities that were previously national have become increasingly open to global influence and are increasingly interlinked in a system of global governance. Slaughter states in her influential book on policy networks: “Understanding ‘domestic’ issues in a regional or global context must become part of doing a good job. Increasingly, the optimal solutions to these issues will depend on what is happening abroad, and the solutions to foreign issues, in corresponding measure, by what is happening at home.” Thus, even policies enacted at the national level may be considered global to the extent that they are co-determined by global policy actors. An increasing number of such policy networks in health have been created and are engaged in active exchange and policy transfer. The European open method of coordination introduced by the European Council of Lisbon in March 2000 is very important to such mechanisms, providing policy actors in health the opportunity to exchange experiences widely and a range of special mechanisms, regular meetings and conferences, websites and publications support this effort.

Similar exchanges happen in the global health arena, with specialist groups meeting to discuss issues related to global governance in general, but even more so on specific health care reforms and disease based approaches. The WHO expert committees and meetings allow for debate and a seeking of consensus that is presented to the World Health Assembly after acceptance in the specialist arena. In particular, foundations enable projects and meetings to explore innovations in health. New think tanks have emerged-particularly in the US-that operate in a transnational space and influence the global governance process.

Analysts maintain that global policy networks are gaining increasing influence as information technology allows for the rapid sharing of knowledge and the pressure for reform at country level increases. Some case studies show that a relatively small group of people have been able to influence both global and national policy development in health in this way through affiliation with international organisations and major foundations. In response there has been a move to ensure more accountability through involving yet other networks such as parliamentarians, who are accountable to an electorate. Increasingly, parliamentarians-for example through the Inter-Parliamentary Union-want to play a more active and an oversight role in global governance.

Very little analytical work has been done on the global policy processes for global health yet it appears that it is dominated by the United States and the English-speaking world and is influential in both developed and developing countries. A particularly attractive way to co-determine national policy development by global policy actors is to engage in in-depth country studies and reviews.

European actors-in particular foundations-should study the increasing importance of policy networks in global governance and apply the results to an engaged effort to promote European perspectives to global health. They should contribute further to establishing global norms for action in policy networks in close cooperation with developing countries.

The EU Health Forum:

serves as an information and consultation mechanism to ensure that the aims of the Community’s health strategy are made clear to the public and respond to their concerns. It provides an opportunity to representative organisations of patients, health professionals and other stakeholders, such as health service providers, to make contributions to health policy development, its implementation and the setting of priorities for action.

The EU Health Forum is composed of two complementary elements: An Open Forum as a platform for general exchange of information and for a discussion with a broader range of groups and interested parties, and a Health Policy Forum with a consistent set of member organizations, for the discussion of key policy areas.

EC Platform on diet, physical activity and health:

The EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health started in March 2005 with the purpose to create a forum for actors at European level who can commit their membership to engage in concrete actions designed to contain or reverse current trends. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) also participate to offer technical expertise but only with observer status. As underlined in the White Paper on Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues, the Commission considers that the development of effective partnerships must be the cornerstone of Europe’s response to tackling nutrition, overweight and obesity and their related health problems. The aim is not to gather all actors with an interest in diet, physical activity and health into the platform, but rather to gather all those who are capable of committing themselves to action on those issues.

To date the Platform involves 34 member EU organisations ranging from food industry to consumer protection NGOs. The spirit of the Platform is to work under the leadership of the European Commission and to provide an example, which others will choose to follow across Europe, of coordinated but autonomous actions by different parts of society to deal with the many aspects of the problem. It is not designed to pre-empt, but rather to stimulate, other initiatives at national, regional or local level.

Since the Platform came into being in March 2005 its members have worked on more than 200 commitments covering a very wide range of activities, including actions in key fields such as consumer information, including labeling; education; physical activity promotion; Marketing, advertising targeting children, labeling and product reformulation – i.e. the process during which the recipe for a product high in unhealthy substances (e.g. sugar, salt) is altered in order to make the product healthier. All initiatives including monitoring information are presented in a Platform commitments database. Platform members have agreed to monitor and evaluate the performance of commitments in a transparent, participative and accountable way.

The European Alcohol and Health Forum:

On October 24 2006, the European Commission adopted a Communication setting out an EU strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol related harm. The priorities identified in the Communication were: to protect young people and children; reduce injuries and deaths from alcohol-related road accidents; prevent harm among adults and reduce the negative impact on the economy; raise awareness of the impact on health of harmful alcohol consumption; and help gather reliable statistics. The Commission identified areas where the EU can support Member States’ actions to reduce alcohol-related harm, such as financing projects through the Public Health and Research Programmes, exchanging good practice on issues such as curbing under-age drinking and exploring cooperation in the field of information or tackling drink-driving and other Community initiatives.

The European Alcohol and Health Forum was created as a common platform for action. Its members are businesses and NGO’s that are willing to devote time and resources to adopt meaningful actions to prevent alcohol-related harm. EU Member States, European Institutions, the World Health Organisation and the International Organisation of Vine and Wine participate as observers.

The Forum is to meet twice a year and to be chaired by the Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection (DG SANCO). The Forum will establish a Science Group, which-at the request of the Forum-will provide scientific advice and guidance on matters under discussion. The Forum can also establish Task Forces. The first two have already been established and cover Marketing Communication and Youth-specific aspects of alcohol.

In order to become a member of the Forum, a business or an NGO has to submit a written commitment to take action. In other words, all the members have to present a concrete action plan with objectives and information on how the results will be monitored and evaluated. Participation for the sake of participation will not be possible as members will need to report on what they have done and their achievements. Action plans and commitments will be made public and all will be observed within one single monitoring framework. An overview and a 2008 analysis of the commitments that have so far been made are available online. The publicly available evaluations of initiatives should in turn provide examples for the other members of the Forum to follow.

Useful Web Sites