Sharing knowhow and joining forces towards Health for All

In the public interest? The role of NGOs in national health systems and global health policy. Workshop at the People's Health Assembly

In the public interest? The role of NGOs in national health systems and global health policy. Workshop at the People's Health Assembly

Cape Town, July 2012. A group of NGOs and international NGO networks contributed to the People’s Health Assembly with a critical reflection on the role and the future of private not for profit health service providers and international NGOs: What does it need to make NGOs part of the solution and not the problem? We linked the discussion on the integration of NGOs in national health systems with debates on the role of NGOs in global health governance and civil society.

NGOs and social movements for health - this is not an easy relationship. Two tribes, two cultures, two languages and quite a bit of bad experiences, prejudice, mistrust and misunderstanding.  So it was indeed good and helpful to come together. The two well attended workshops at the People's Health Assembly lead to some intensive debates which made it clear that the dialogue between representatives of NGOs and social movements - even if both share the goal of health for all - needs to be continued and deepened. We did a start - and are looking forward to more.

Thanks a lot to everybody who contributed - on the two panels, in the discussion or just being with us. And send us your reports and feedback about the workshop and your resources related the workshop topic so that we can add them to the documentation below.


The challenge of integration
July 7th, 17.00 hrs. to 19.00 hrs.

“NGOs, if not careful and vigilant, can undermine the public sector and even the health system as a whole, by diverting health workers, managers and leaders into privatized operations that create parallel structures to government and that tend to worsen the isolation of communities from formal health systems. (NGO Code of Conduct for Health Systems Strengthening, 2008,

  • Regina Bakitte and George Tumwesigye Owakukiroru, UCMB, Uganda
    The challenge of integrating private not for profit health
    service providers in the national health system of Uganda
    "The Ugandan government has approved a Public-Private Partnership Policy for delivery of essential services, including health services. At this critical moment we are negotiating with the government the best way to implement this policy. For an effective integration of private not for profit health services providers in national health systems it is important to strengthen the relationship and good will of all actors at health sub-district, district, Ministry of Health, PNFPs, and the political involvement at all levels."
    > powerpoint presentation (as PDF)

  • Gemma Salvetti and Bruno Abarca, Medicus Mundi Catalunya, Angola office:
    NGOs and Health System Strengthening
    – Proposals to increase integration and improve impact

    "We started around 1997 to develop a working method that does not undermine, but rather strengthens the health system. It implies not supporting faith-based nor NGO supported private institutions, but supporting the public health system instead."
    > powerpoint presentation (as PDF, 7 MB)

  • Thomas Schwarz, Medicus Mundi International Network:
    Is your NGO rather strengthening or weakening
    the national health system?

    "I do not see the role of the MMI Network as a defender of NGO interests, but as a place for debate, sharing of experiences and learning. In the workshop, I would like to recall and discuss the existing codes of conduct/good practice for NGOs such mainly the NGO Code of Conduct for Health Systems Strengthening.
    > powerpoint presentation (as PDF, 1.5 MB)

Inputs followed by open discussion.
Moderator: Remco van de Pas, Wemos, Netherlands

NGOs - the good, the bad and the evil?
July 8th, 17.00 hrs. to 19.00 hrs.

"International NGOs are at a crossroads. Caught up in a tide of technocracy, they have become increasingly managerialist – 'outsider' experts disconnected from the real struggle. But which road should they take? Can they transform societies, or should they opt for a more modest role, as catalysts for change?" (Ellen Lammers in: The Broker, March 2012)

  • Thomas Gebauer, medico international, Germany:
    Aiding at change or abetting crimes - high time to re-politicise NGOs

    "The plan is to tackle the double-edged character of NGOs not just in the context of humanitarian organisations but much more general. NGOs as part of civil society, civil society as part of an extended state, the interaction between public and private actors, the need to re-politicise both the NGOs and the discourse about civil society, the threat of getting instrumentalised from security policy, commercial interests, and in the attempts of states to overcoming their legitimation crisis. And, of course ideas for the way out."
    > powerpoint presentation (as PDF)
    > full text (medico international website)

  • Itai Rusike: Community Working Group on Health, Zimbabwe:
    A look at NGOs from a civic/community based organization
    > powerpoint presentation (as PDF)

  • Angela Kageni, Aidspan, Kenya:
    Civil society as "watchdogs" in national and international health policy
    "The role of civil society organizations as watchdogs in ensuring accountability is a  critical component of health systems strengthening - and a role that I feel has become eroded: Being a watchdogs means providing information, analysis and advice, facilitating critical debate, and promoting greater transparency, accountability, effectiveness and impact."
    > powerpoint presentation (as PDF)

  • Joyce Chanetsa, IBFAN:
    Public vs. business interest NGOs as actors in global health
    "The WHO Secretariat is proposing to 'review and update' the 1987 Principles governing relations with NGOs. It is important that this review results in improved relations with public interest NGOs, which may require in some instances even restricting engagement. For example, in the case of tobacco control, the Framework Convention (FCTC) benefited from the narrow definition of the NGOs involved, which made it possible to avoid the inclusion of typical industry front groups, lobbying for tobacco and often positioning themselves as NGOs."
    > powerpoint presentation (as PDF)

Inputs followed by open discussion.
Moderator: Remco van de Pas, Wemos, Netherlands

Organizing NGOs and NGO networks



Your are welcome to get back to us if you have any enquiries or suggestions in the follow-up of the NGO workshop: Thomas Schwarz, Executive Secretary, Medicus Mundi International Network,


People's Health Assembly
Cape Town, 6-11 July 2012

The People’s Health Assembly (PHA) is a global event bringing together health activists from across the world to share experiences, analyse the global health situation, and develop civil society positions which promote health for all. It is an opportunity to reassess, redirect and re-inspire. PHA3 is organized by the People’s Health Movement PHM: “PHA3 is not just about developing our movement. It is also about impacting directly in the struggle for social justice: health for all, decent living conditions for all, work in dignity for all, equity and environmental justice.”

  • People’s Health Assembly: website

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