Breakthrough WHO Initiative Launched in Europe to Engage and Empower CSOs in Health Emergency Responses
Throughout the pandemic, civil society organizations (CSOs) have been crucial partners in reducing the impacts of COVID-19 on individuals and communities, particularly those in hard-to-reach vulnerable groups. The direct participation of CSOs – from planning through to the implementation and evaluation stages of preparedness, readiness and response – has also helped reinforce the actions of governments and has been a key factor in encouraging citizens to comply with guidance.
Now, to engage and empower CSOs, WHO/Europe has launched an initiative that will help them further contribute to the current COVID-19 response and benefit the future readiness and preparedness of countries and communities by:
- strengthening community readiness and resilience to emergencies
- connecting vulnerable communities to services
- enhancing inclusive governance.
Speaking at the online launch event, Dr Dorit Nitzan, Regional Emergency Director for WHO Europe, said, “The CSO initiative kicking off today is unprecedented and can be a real game changer in the way WHO, governments and communities address this and future emergencies.”
Putting a whole-of-society approach into practice
This initiative will be directly investing in 11 selected CSOs within 8 Member States in the WHO European Region to demonstrate how small investments in CSOs can have a meaningful impact.
The selected CSOs, which work directly with refugees and migrants, Roma populations, people living with disabilities, older people, religious leaders, women, and communities impacted by conflict, have a track record of working with international organizations and donors to make a difference for the communities they represent, by conducting needs assessments, addressing service disruption, and creating platforms for the inclusion of communities.
Some initiatives across the 8 projects include:
- piloting remote access to educational services for children and youth with disabilities in Greece;
- establishing health mediators for refugees and migrants in Serbia;
- involving retired health workers in coordinating the COVID-19 response in Krygyzstan;
- creating community boards for Roma populations in North Macedonia;
- fostering dialogue with communities impacted by conflict in Ukraine;
- engaging religious leaders from different faiths to encourage communities to get vaccinated in Israel;
- enhancing the skills of health workers in the areas of professional burnout and domestic violence in Georgia; and
- building the capacities of local authorities to engage refugee and migrant communities in Slovenia.
Increasing community ownership
As part of this initiative, the organizations will be piloting new bottom-up approaches, in collaboration with governments, to give communities a say in plans that affect their lives and to ensure they are involved in policy-making processes – an important part of a shift from community engagement to community empowerment.
With CSO participation, Member States can expect an increase in community resilience leading to a better implementation of national strategic preparedness and response plans for future emergencies.
WHO/Europe will be working directly with CSOs and empowering them to be agents of change by:
- establishing/leveraging trust relations between CSOs and communities, including when confidence in authorities is low;
- understanding and addressing people’s perceptions and concerns;
- reconciling science and society/religion (i.e. making sure that messages and measures are both scientifically sound and culturally acceptable);
- accessing vulnerable groups and providing them with relevant public health advice;
- mitigating fear and stigma for certain groups or measures;
- building community capacity for higher community resilience; and
- fostering inclusive governance that embeds the needs of community groups into emergency preparedness, readiness and response.
Funded through the UN Foundation and the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, the pilot initiative will run until December 2021.
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